Three gravitational wave-detecting scientists win 2017 Physics Nobel

The 2017 Nobel Physics Prize was divided, one half awarded to Rainer Weiss, the other half jointly to Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”.

Ripples in the fabric of space-time, first predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein, sparked a revolution in astrophysics when their first detection was announced in early 2016. The teams involved in the discovery quickly emerged as favourites for the prize.

“This is something completely new and different, opening up unseen worlds,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement announcing the winners of the 9 million Swedish kroner ($1.1 million) award. “A wealth of discoveries awaits those who succeed in capturing the waves and interpreting their message.”

Triggered when super-dense black holes merge, the waves were detected using laser beams at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). “The signal was extremely weak when it reached the Earth, but is already promising a revolution in astrophysics,” the Academy said.


The waves detected by the laureates came from the collision of two black holes some 1.3 billion light years away. A light year is about 9.5 trillion km.

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

Dr. Weiss, in a phone call with a news conference at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said, “I view this more as a thing that recognises the work of a thousand people.”

In the 1070s, Dr. Weiss designed a laser-based device that would overcome background noise that would disturb measurements of gravitational waves. He, Dr. Thorne and Dr. Barish “ensured that four decades of effort led to gravitational waves finally being observed,” the Nobel announcement said.

Einstein was convinced that gravitational waves could never be measured. The laureates used laser devices “to measure a change thousands of times smaller than an atomic nucleus,” it said.

In a moment of poetry aimed at making the distant and infinitesimal phenomenon understandable to non-experts, the academy announcement said gravitational waves “are always created when a mass accelerates, like when an ice-skater pirouettes or a pair of black holes rotate around each other”.

The 2016 prize went to three British-born researchers who applied the mathematical discipline of topology to help understand the workings of exotic matter such as superconductors and superfluids.

The 2017 Nobel medicine prize went on October 2 to three Americans studying circadian rhythms, better known as body clocks- Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young.

(With inputs from Reuters, AP, AFP)

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 10:22:58 PM |

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