October 17, 2017

Detection of gravitational waves wins 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics

04 October 2017, 12:29 | Ruben Fields

MIT professor emeritus Rainer Weiss talks on the phone at his home in Newton Massachusetts after winning the Nobel Prize in physics

MIT professor emeritus Rainer Weiss talks on the phone at his home in Newton Massachusetts after winning the Nobel Prize in physics

Professor Weiss, a retired Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist, was awarded half of the nine million Swedish kronor (£825,000) prize money.

All three scientists have played a leading role in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or Ligo, experiment, which made the first historic observation of gravitational waves in September 2015. He took over as the second director in 1994 at Ligo when the project was close to being canceled.

To make the observation, the US-based LIGO detector used a pair of giant laser devices to measure ripples thousands of times smaller than an atomic nucleus as the gravitational waves passed Earth.

Announcing the winners in Stockholm on Tuesday, the Nobel committee described Ligo as the "most sensitive instrument ever devised by man".

Nobel prize in physics was established by the will of Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel and awarded since 1901.

The three Nobel Laureates, Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish, were Ligo pioneers whose work over four decades led to gravitational waves finally being observed.

"This is something completely new and different, opening up unseen worlds".

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But because of the rules for the scientific Nobel Prizes, no more than three physicists could be given a share of the $1.1 million award.

Although three winners were announced, the award is being split in half - one half to Weiss and the other to Barish and Thorne.

"LIGO's discoveries have opened an unparalleled window into our universe and expanded the boundaries of science". "There are a huge amount of the universe that radiate gravitational waves".

Rainer Weiss, a professor emeritus at MIT, was born in Germany in 1932. That's when Rainer Weiss of the California Institute of Technology proposed a design that he thought would be able to detect gravitational waves. The fourth gravitational wave, observed on August 14, 2017, was made using two LIGO detectors in the United States - loacated in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington - and the Virgo detector in Italy. LIGO discovered its third gravitational wave on January 4, 2016. The goal, he said, "is to look deeper and deeper into the universe and to study its beginnings". His ideas were then translated, through a series of researchers, including Kip Thorne, Ronald Drever, and Barry Barish, into what would become LIGO.

Unlike other types of waves that go through the universe such as electromagnetic waves, gravitational waves go through matter - stars, planets, us - untouched.

Currently, Indian participation in the worldwide LIGO Science Collaboration, has over 60 researchers, constituting five of the members of the LSC, making it the fourth largest national participant. "I have somewhat ambivalent feelings about the recognition of individuals when so much of this was a team effort", he says.

This is the third year scientists from the LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy have been among the scientific research teams involved with the Nobel Prize in Physics.

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