IOP hails award of Nobel Prize to physicists who worked to detect gravitational waves

3 October 2017

The IOP has applauded the award of this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics to three American physicists for “decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”.

IOP hails award of Nobel Prize to physicists who worked to detect gravitational waves
Bryce Vickmark

Rainer Weiss from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 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 Caltech (pictured left and right, below).

IOP hails award of Nobel Prize to physicists who worked to detect gravitational waves
Keenan Pepper/R Hahn

Gravitational waves were first detected on 14 September 2015, a hundred years after Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which predicted their existence, was published. The waves detected then were generated by the collision of two black holes more than 1.3 billion years ago.

Gravitational waves are ripples in spacetime travelling at the speed of light and are produced when bodies with mass accelerate, changing the curvature in spacetime around them and spreading outwards from their source as waves.

The international collaboration had input from scientists at a range of universities, including a team from the University of Birmingham who developed the techniques to extract the properties of the sources from the gravitational wave signatures, 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 and a team led by the University of Glasgow and including the University of Strathclyde and the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, which developed and built all the main suspensions for the Advanced LIGO interferometers.

In response to the announcement, the IOP’s chief executive, 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 general theory of 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 that are now within our reach.”