Nobel Prize in Physics goes to trio for work on Einstein's theory

Herbert Rhodes
October 4, 2017

Three US scientists have won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of gravitational waves - a phenomenon first predicted by Albert Einstein a hundred years ago. Weiss, who works at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will receive half the amount, and the rest will be split between Barish and Thorne, from the California Institute of Technology. Hence why the initial gravitational waves spotted by LIGO came from two massive black holes - both 30 times bigger than our sun - crashing into each other near the speed of light. They told the world previous year that they had spotted gravitational waves travelling through the universe, which were caused by two massive black holes circling around each other before eventually colliding.

Even though the cataclysmic events which cause gravitational waves are incredibly powerful, the signals are nearly imperceptible by the time they reach earth, requiring extremely sensitive instruments to detect them.

The LIGO first observed signs of gravitational waves on 14 September 2015.

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

LIGO was considered the odds-on favorite for this year's Nobel Prize in physics, but the laureates didn't get the official word until early today.

The scientists were noted for their "invaluable" contributions to the success of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

"Their discovery shook the world", said Goran K Hansson, the head of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences.

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.

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One-half of the prize was awarded to Weiss, and the other half will be shared by Thorne and Barish. "And all of a sudden, we discovered that the universe was much vaster than we used to think about", Mr Goobar said. Several more gravitational waves have been detected since then.

Q&A What is a gravitational wave?

Who will win a Nobel physics prize is often anyone's guess; the selection process is notoriously secretive.

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.

Einstein's general theory of relativity predicts that the presence of mass causes a curvature in spacetime.

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.

Meanwhile, Barish, a particle physicist also from CIT and the second director of LIGO, was instrumental in seeing the project through to construction, despite the fact that when he took over in 1994, it was in danger of being scrapped. "This is just the beginning of a new roller-coaster exploration of the universe", said Alberto Vecchio of the University of Birmingham's Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy.

Raymond Davis Jr., who was 88 years old when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2002, is the oldest.

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