Physics Nobel Prize: Gravitational Wave researchers honored by prestigious award

Physics Nobel Prize: Gravitational Wave researchers honored by prestigious award

Rainer Weiss has been awarded one half of the 9m Swedish kronor (£825,000) prize, announced by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm today.

Professor Sheila Rowan, director of the University of Glasgow's Institute for Gravitational Research, a leading British Ligo scientist, said: "We're thrilled to hear that the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 has gone to gravitational wave detection". Without having a second detector, there would have been many false positives from things like moving trucks and crashing waves, which would render the detection of gravitational waves impossible.

In Feburary past year, the Ligo announced they had detected such a ripple, believed to be caused by two black holes colliding.

LSU's pioneering role in this science began in 1970 with the arrival of William Hamilton, now professor emeritus, who along with Physics Professor Warren Johnson, built and operated previous-generation cryogenic bar gravitational wave detectors on campus for many years. A third European observatory, Virgo, has also detected one of the mergers, allowing researchers to locate the source of these waves more accurately than ever before.

Ultrasensitive As laser light bounces back and forth along arms between its mirrors, LIGO senses gravitational waves as minuscule fluctuations in the lengths of the arms.

Ariel Goobar of the Royal Academy said the winners' work meant "we can study processes which were completely impossible, out of reach to us in the past".

With Tuesday's announcement, the total number of Physics Nobel Prize recipients has increased to 206 (the total number of Prizes is 207; John Bardeen received the award twice).

By far one of the favourites for the prize, the award was split between the three, with one half going to Weiss and the other half jointly awarded to Barish and Thorne.

It is "a milestone, opening a window to the unknown universe".

In his 1915 theory, Einstein outlined how ripples are created in the very fabric of spacetime itself when objects with large masses collide. Meanwhile, across the country at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's fabled "Plywood Palace", Weiss, now 85, came up with the concept for how to detect them.

Theoretical astrophysicist Kip Thorne, 77, engineered a similar interferometer prototype at the California Institute of Technology in the 1970s, and his group's designs and discoveries laid the foundation for the LIGO.

University of Washington astrophysicist Krishna Venkateswara, a member of the collaboration, told GeekWire in an email that he was "very proud that the award went to the founders of LIGO, who have inspired the rest of us to pursue this wonderful science". Over the next decade, Barish "transformed LIGO from a limited MIT/Caltech endeavour to a major worldwide, gravitational-wave project", Nobel Prize committee wrote.

All three are now part of an exclusive club containing 204 previous winners of the Physics Nobel Prize. "I have somewhat ambivalent feelings about the recognition of individuals when so much of this was a team effort", he says.

The Nobel Prize will be handed out on December 10 on the anniversary of the death of Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who created the award in 1895.

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