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Nobel Prize for Physics 2017 – Gravitational Waves

3 October 2017

Black hole simulation

Black hole simulation (Credit: Christian Reisswig, Luciano Rezzolla, Max-Planck-Institut für Gravitationsphysik (Albert-Einstein-Institut/AEI)/ Michael Koppitz, Max-Planck-Institut für Gravitationsphysik (Albert-Einstein-Institut/AEI)/Zuse-Institut Berlin) © AEI/ITP/ZIB)

More than 100 years since they were first theorised by Albert Einstein – and two years since they were first detected here on Earth – the study of gravitational waves has been awarded a Nobel Prize.

The 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics has gone to Professors Kip Thorne, Barry Barish and Rainer Weiss of the Ligo-Virgo collaboration, key figures in detecting the long-theorised ripples in space-time ‘for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves’.

The detection was a truly international effort and has captured headlines across the world ushering in an entirely new era of astronomy research.

“I am delighted that this year’s Nobel Prize has gone to our gravitational wave research”, said Jo van den Brand, spokesperson for the Virgo Collaboration.

“The detection of these minute wrinkles in spacetime constitutes an extraordinary achievement. It is the start of a new chapter in our study of the Universe”

Since the first discovery in 2016, three more gravitational waves generated by two colliding black holes have been detected. The most recent of these detections, on August 14, 2017, was the first one with three detectors at the same time, namely the two Advanced LIGO detectors and the upgraded Advanced Virgo instrument, which jointly operated for 4 weeks starting August 1, 2017.

LIGO Executive Director, David Reitze, said: “I’m positively delighted that the Nobel Committee has recognized the LIGO discovery and its profound impact on the way we view the cosmos. This prize rewards not just Kip, Rai, and Barry but also the large number of very smart and dedicated scientists and engineers who worked tirelessly over the past decades to make LIGO a reality.

Notes to editors

Credit: Nobel Prize

Gravitational waves are ripples in space caused by massive cosmic events such as the collision of black holes or the explosion of supernovae. They are not electromagnetic radiation, and as a result have been undetectable until the technological breakthroughs at LIGO enabled by UK technology. The waves carry unique information about the origins of our Universe and studying them is expected to provide important insights into the evolution of stars, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, neutron stars and black holes. However, they interact very weakly with particles and require incredibly sensitive equipment to detect.

For more information: STFC website – Gravitational waves: everything you need to know.

LIGO is operated by Caltech and MIT with funding from the USA’s National Science Foundation (NSF), and supported by vital input from more than 1,000 researchers around the world.

The Virgo collaboration consists of more than 280 physicists and engineers belonging to 20 different European research groups: six from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France; eight from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy; two in The Netherlands with Nikhef; the MTA Wigner RCP in Hungary; the POLGRAW group in Poland; Spain with the University of Valencia; and EGO, the laboratory hosting the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy.

They are studying new phenomena in our Universe for the very first time, whilst honing novel technology to allow gravitational wave detectors to probe even further out into our cosmos.