Press Release

Discovery of Gravitational Waves Wins Nobel Prize in Physics

By SpaceRef Editor
October 3, 2017
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This year’s Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to three American physicists for “decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.”
Rainer Weiss from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been awarded half of this year’s prize for his major contribution to the concept and construction of the Laser Interferometry Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO). The other half of the prize will be shared between Kip Thorne from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Barry Barish from the California Institute of Technology.

Gravitational waves were detected on 14 September 2015, a hundred years after Albert Einstein’s theory was published, and were generated by the collision of two black holes more than 1.3 billion light-years from Earth.

In Einstein’s general theory of relativity published in 1915, gravity is treated as being a result of space and time bending in the presence of mass. Gravitational waves are ripples in spacetime travelling at the speed of light, and they are produced when bodies with mass accelerate, changing the curvature in spacetime around them, and then spreading outwards from their source as waves.

This international collaboration had input from scientists at a range of universities, including the University of Birmingham, who developed the techniques to extract the properties of the sources from the gravitational wave signatures, and a team from the University of Cardiff who developed large parts of the complex algorithm that was used to sift through the data in search of the key signal.

In response to the announcement, chief executive officer of the Institute of Physics, Professor Paul Hardaker, said: “We are delighted that the discovery of gravitational waves has won this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics. For as long as we have had astronomy we have used light in some form or another to understand how our universe works. This significant result marked the beginning of another way of viewing the universe, using gravity, which is what makes it such a major step forward, and so deserving of a Nobel Prize.

“This was a truly worldwide endeavour with researchers from around the world, including a very active involvement from our UK physics community, and in particular those involved with the Advanced LIGO project. This is well-deserved recognition for all of those scientists and they should feel very proud of reaching this milestone.

“It is remarkable and very inspiring to think of how far the discovery of gravitational waves has brought us since Einstein published his theory of general relativity just over 100 years ago. It is a discovery which has paved the way for a new generation of physicists, inspired by the work of the LIGO teams, to make many more exciting discoveries which are now within our reach.”

SpaceRef staff editor.