Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to gravitational wave scientists

Swapna Krishna

The 2017 winners of the Nobel Prize for Physics were announced today. One half of the prize will go to Ranier Weiss from MIT, while the other half is being awarded jointly to Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne, both from Caltech. The three scientists worked on gravitational wave observation, collaborating between the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo, its European counterpart. The prize was awarded "for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves," according to the Nobel Prize website.

The first confirmed detection of gravitational waves, caused by the collision of two black holes, occurred back in September of 2015. These ripples in spacetime were first predicted by Albert Einstein himself. Subsequent detections followed; the fourth, and most recent detection of gravitational waves occurred just last week. "Gravitational waves contain information about their explosive origins and the nature of gravity that cannot be obtained from other astronomical signals," said France Córdova, the director of the National Science Foundation. "These observations have created the new field of gravitational wave astronomy."

The committee chose these three men because the "2017 Nobel Laureates have, with their enthusiasm and determination, each been invaluable to the success of LIGO." Their hard work contributed to the project's success and ensured that the 40-year hunt for gravitational waves resulted in a successful detection. The Nobel Prize will be awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, at a ceremony this December.

Nobel Prize, National Science Foundation