3 Scientists Win Nobel Physics Prize for Discovery of Gravitational Waves

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Three American physicists have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of gravitational waves. Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne were also awarded the £825,000 prize for their detection of ripples in the fabric of spacetime.

The team won’t split the prize equally, however. Renier Wiess will get half of the 9 million Kroner prize, with Barry and Kip sharing the other half. First anticipated by Albert Einstein almost a century ago, three American scientists have finally vindicated him almost one hundred years on.

All three scientists played a vital role in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or Ligo, which made the historic observation in September of 2015.

First anticipated by Albert Einstein almost a century ago, three American scientists have finally vindicated him. All three scientists played a vital role in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or Ligo, which made the historic observation in September of 2015.

The team

Rainer Weiss is an Emeritus Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is an experimental physicist and made major contributions to the concept, design, funding, and construction of the LIGO.

Kip Thorne is a Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at California Institute of Technology. He is a theoretical physicist who made crucial predictions about what the detection of a gravitational wave would “look” like. He also worked on ways to identify the signal within any collected data.

Barry Barish is a former particle physicist at the California Institute of Technology. He is now Emeritus Professor. He is widely credited for getting the experiment started in the first place. He took over as the second director in 1994 at Ligo when the project was close to being canceled. He successfully turned things around and made sure the project was completed in 1999.

Artist impression of two colliding white dwarfs and gravitational waves. Source: NASA/Dana Berry, Sky Works Digital/Wikimedia Commons

What they observed

The team managed to observe a collision between two black holes. They did this using a highly sophisticated detector to “listen” for 20 thousandths of second to the motions of two black holes. One of which that was 35 times the mass of the sun.

The two objects began circling one another about 30 times a second, by the end of their 20-millisecond snippet of data the two had accelerated to 250 times a second before violently colliding and merging together.

The gravitational waves discovered are oscillations in space-time created by the collision of the black holes.