UK physicist is among winners of Special Breakthrough Prize

19 May 2016

Three researchers will share $1 m and more than 1,000 scientists and engineers will share $2 m as part of a prize awarded for detecting gravitational waves.

Portrait of Drever

Professors Ronald Drever, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss are the three leading winners of the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, as founders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), which made the discovery announced in February.

The award, a special prize in addition to the annual Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, was given for "the observation of gravitational waves, opening new horizons in astronomy and physics".

Also recognised in the award are 1,005 authors of a paper about the LIGO experiment and the Virgo Collaboration, as well as seven other scientists who contributed to the success of LIGO. The scientists, based in countries across the globe, will each receive nearly $2,000 as their equal shares of the $2 m.

Among them were physicists at nine UK universities and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Scottish physicist Drever began his career at the University of Glasgow, one of the institutions whose researchers contributed to LIGO. Later he was also professor emeritus at the California Institute of Technology.

The Special Breakthrough Prize was awarded by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation. Its selection committee for the prize was chaired by Professor Ed Witten, who said: "This amazing achievement lets us observe for the first time some of the remarkable workings of Einstein's theory. Theoretical ideas about black holes that were close to being science fiction when I was a student are now reality."

The prizes will be presented at a ceremony in the autumn, along with the annual Breakthough Prize for Physics, for which nominations are open until 31 May.