Leading gravitational waves physicist Professor Ron Drever passes away

9 March 2017

Ronald Drever

Ronald W. P. Drever, one of the original co-founders of the LIGO project, working in his lab.
(Credit: Caltech Archives)

Professor Ron Drever, whose work helped pave the way for the detection of gravitational waves in 2015, has passed away. The news was announced by his family yesterday.

Scottish physicist Professor Drever co-founded The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) with Professor Kip Thorne at Caltech and Professor Rainer Weiss at MIT in the US over the period from 1986 till 1994 and this large-scale physics experiment and observatory, after a major upgrade in the period between 2010 and 2015, allowed for the detection of gravitational waves in September 2015.

The detection of the ripples in the fabric of space time, caused by the merging of two black holes, is seen as one of the major breakthroughs of modern physics and has ushered in a new era of astronomy.

Professor Drever originally led the research team at the University of Glasgow to support the worldwide effort to detect gravitational waves, before his move to Caltech in the late 1970s. That initial work in Scotland, building early gravitational wave detectors, eventually led to the formation of the Institute for Gravitational Research in Glasgow.

Professor Sheila Rowan is the current Director of the Glasgow Institute for Gravitational Research and has today said “The recent news of the passing of Professor Ron Drever is most sad and represents a loss of one of the early pioneers and visionaries in the global gravitational wave community.”

“Ron was one of the co-founders of the US LIGO project and he continued to work on the LIGO project in Caltech until 1994 and became Professor Emeritus from Caltech in 2002. Pioneering work in this research area continued in Glasgow, led before me by Ron's former student Professor Jim Hough, on new and novel technologies to help create the 'Advanced' version of the LIGO instruments. It was these instruments that were finally capable of making the first gravitational wave detections that were announced just last year.”

Dr Brian Bowsher, Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, said: “Professor Ron Drever made a substantial contribution to the breakthrough in gravitational wave detection. His pioneering work with the team at Glasgow University in the 1970s and his commitment to the LIGO project in the 1980s led to the detection of this elusive phenomenon. The work of Professor Drever and his colleagues has contributed significantly to our understanding of physics and astrophysics.”

Professor Grahame Blair, STFC’s Director of Programmes said, "Professor Ron Drever’s work has opened up an entirely new window on the universe for future generations to explore; our scientific programme has been greatly enhanced by his pioneering work."

Since the confirmation of the detection of gravitational waves in 2016 Professor Drever, along with Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration have been awarded many accolades for their work including the Yuri Milner Foundation’s Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (2016) and the Gruber Prize in Cosmology (2016), together with the Shaw Prize in Astronomy (2016) and the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics (2016).

STFC sends its condolences to Professor Drever’s family.

More details can be found here.

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