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United States physicists win Nobel Prize for discovery of gravitational waves

04 October 2017, 12:28 | Hattie Nash

2017 Nobel Prize goes to scientists who detected ripples in the fabric of space and time


The 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics has gone to US-based Professors Kip Thorne, Barry Barish and Rainer Weiss, three key figures in detecting ripples in space-time that were originally theorised by Einstein.

The 900-member global science team responsible for the discovery, honored with the Nobel Prize in Physics Oct. 3, is the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) collaboration. Hence why the initial gravitational waves spotted by LIGO came from two massive black holes - both 30 times bigger than our sun - crashing into each other near the speed of light.

Two huge L-shaped detectors in the U.S. that together comprise Ligo measured the infinitesimally small echo of the black holes crashing together and merging 1.3 billion light years away. Many scientists thought the explosions of stars would create the best waves for detection, but Thorne said that black holes or neutron stars rotating around one another would make the best sources for study. Botner pointed out that just last week the LIGO team along with scientists at VIRGO, a new gravitational-wave detector near Pisa, announced that all three detectors measured signals that correspond to yet another black-hole merger.

The work to detect the gravitational waves was done by the LIGO Science Collaboration, or LSC, a team of more than 1,000 scientists from universities in the US and overseas.

"This is something completely new and different, opening up unseen worlds", the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement on awarding the 9 million krona (S$1.5 million) prize.

University has paid tribute to the work of one of its former scientists after three of his colleagues were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.

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Dr Drever may have been recognised alongside his colleagues Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish but the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.

The concept is somewhat awe-inspiring.On a small scale, every movement we've ever made has wiggled the physical Jell-o of spacetime that defines everything around us, propelling waves that stretch and squeeze space itself. Thorne, who is a theoretical professor of physics at California Institute of Technology, also has a special connection with Hollywood. What Weiss, Thorne and Barish did was to build the first machine sensitive enough to be able to directly measure gravitational waves. In 1916, the renowned physicist said his theory of general relativity meant that gravitational waves could exist.

Q&A What is a gravitational wave?

Professor Sheila Rowan, Director of the University of Glasgow's Institute for Gravitational Research, was one of the UK's leads on LIGO and welcomed the Nobel committee's decision. The LIGO Scientific Collaboration now includes more than 100 institutions and 18 countries. Speaking over the phone at the award ceremony he said: "I view this more as a thing that recognises the work of about 1,000 people".

Raymond Davis Jr., who was 88 years old when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2002, is the oldest. For the past 25 years, the prize has been shared among multiple winners.

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