In DepthNobel Prizes

Trio surfs gravitational waves to Nobel glory

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Science  06 Oct 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6359, pp. 17
DOI: 10.1126/science.358.6359.17

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Rainer Weiss, 85, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and Kip Thorne, 77, and Barry Barish, 81, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena share the $1.1 million Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of gravitational waves. The three played key roles in developing the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), two enormous optical instruments in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, that act like rulers to measure the stretching of space. Since September 2015, LIGO has on four occasions spotted gravitational waves from two black holes spiraling into each other. The detections validate a century-old prediction by Albert Einstein and open a new window on the heavens. The award, on the other hand, opens a window on the sometimes unseemly politics that can surround a Nobel Prize. No more than three people can share a Nobel Prize, and many gravitational physicists thought Ronald Drever would share it with Weiss and Thorne. Particle physicists campaigned for their colleague Barish instead. Drever's death on 7 March at age 85 spared the Nobel committee a difficult choice.