Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Mechanical Engineer Joe Odell inside the Beamsplitter vacuum tank at LIGO Livingston Observatory, with one of seven Beamsplitter suspensions delivered by the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) for the aLIGO project.
10 December 2017
STFC congratulates Professors Kip Thorne, Barry Barish and Rainer Weiss on receiving their 2017 Nobel Prize Medal and diploma for Physics in Stockholm from His Majesty the King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.
The 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics went to Professors Kip Thorne, Barry Barish and Rainer Weiss, 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 breakthrough detection in September 2015 which was announced in February 2016 was a truly international effort, with the UK playing a leading role, and captured headlines across the world ushering in an entirely new era of astronomy research. Key technological and computing advances for the project were made in the UK which enabled the historic first detection.
Dr Brian Bowsher, Chief Executive of the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council, said: "The award of the Nobel to Professors Kip Thorne, Barry Barish and Rainer Weiss is a celebration of their determination to push forward the area of gravitational research such that today, only two years since that first detection of gravitational waves, a whole new way to understand the Universe has been opened up.
“The award can also be seen as recognition of the contribution of many UK-based scientists and engineers to the breakthrough which was partly made possible by British advances in technology. It is exciting to contemplate what the LIGO and Virgo teams will learn next about the Universe as they continue to detect further gravitational waves."
The first gravitational wave detection in 2015 was made possible by a technical upgrade to Advanced LIGO (aLIGO), relying heavily on initial UK capital funding and on technical and manufacturing expertise from UK universities – especially the advanced mirror-suspension systems.
You can watch videos of the Nobel Lectures of Professors Kip Thorne, Barry Barish and Rainer Weiss via the links below:
You can read Professor Weiss’s Banquet speech on the Nobel Prize website.
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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.
More information on gravitational waves.
More about the UK’s involvement in gravitational wave research.
The University of Glasgow’s Institute for Gravitational Research, supported by STFC funding, is focused on the development of detector hardware and software for sensing gravitational waves from astrophysical sources.
Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time caused by massive accelerating objects, such as black holes. The Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy at Birmingham brings together expertise from a wide spectrum of disciplines to open a new window on the Universe. Find out more at the University of Birmingham website.
For the past decade, the Gravitational Physics Group at Cardiff University have laid the foundations for how we go about detecting gravitational waves and have developed novel algorithms and software that have now become standard search tools for detecting the elusive signals.
The Group also includes world-leading experts in the collision of black holes, who have produced large-scale computer simulations to imitate these violent cosmic events and predict how gravitational waves are emitted as a consequence. These calculations were instrumental in decoding all four of the observed gravitational-wave signals to date and to measure the properties of the black holes that were detected.