Nobel Winners' Work In Physics Began With Albert Einstein

Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.   

  Ken Richardson

Takaaki Kajita, a Japanese scientist who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics, has been leading a project to search for gravitational waves using the giant detector.

They've been awarded the prize "for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves" that were first detected two years ago on Earth, a feat made possible with significant input from the UK. The waves were generated in the collision of two black holes with 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun 1.3 billion years ago.

"Anything that makes us take more seriously scientists, or economists, or chemists, or physicists or biologists, I think is helpful in times when things get distorted because of people not paying attention to all the facts", Barish said by phone. The first time this was detected was on September 14, 2015, by the LIGO-VIRGO collaboration.

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

More than 1,000 scientists from universities around the USA and other countries conduct LIGO research as members of the LSC.

Dr Brian Bowsher, chief executive of the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council, said: "The award of the Nobel today is a celebration of the genius of a vast team of people, including many UK-based scientists and engineers, and it is something everyone in the United Kingdom can share in".

The three were among the architects and founders of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, along with the late Ron Drever, who unfortunately passed away this year.

Alfred Nobel created five prizes in his 1895 will for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace.


Although three winners were announced, the award is being split in half - one half to Weiss and the other to Barish and Thorne. "It's very rare that we open a completely new window on the universe".

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime.

However, Weiss, emeritus professor of physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is made a major contribution to the concept, design, funding and eventual construction of Ligo.

The first detection of the waves created a scientific sensation when it was announced previous year and the teams involved had been widely seen as favourites for the prize. His ideas were then translated, through a series of researchers, including Kip Thorne, Ronald Drever, and Barry Barish, into what would become LIGO.

"There's a very loud future for gravitational waves", he said.

In his general theory of relativity in 1916, Einstein postulated the existence of space-time ripples caused by whirling massive objects.

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

Moving forward, astronomers are working on methods for combining gravitational wave data and electromagnetic data to study cosmic sources. "Like the rest of the scientific world and beyond, we congratulate these researchers and the members of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration for such a monumental scientific milestone".

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