Gravitational wave scientists win 2017 Nobel Physics Prize

VIDEO: REUTERS
MIT Professor Emeritus of Physics Rainer Weiss was among the three scientists awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics.
MIT Professor Emeritus of Physics Rainer Weiss was among the three scientists awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics.PHOTO: REUTERS

STOCKHOLM (Reuters, AFP) - Scientists Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne of the United States won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics for decisive contributions in the observation of gravitational waves, the award-giving body said on Tuesday (Oct 3).

Predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago as part of his theory of general relativity but only first detected in 2015, gravitational waves are ‘ripples’ in the fabric of space-time caused by violent processes in the Universe, such as colliding black holes or the collapse of stellar cores. 

“Their discovery shook the world,” said Goran K Hansson, the head of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences.

"This is something completely new and different, opening up unseen worlds," the Academy said in a statement on awarding the 9 million Swedish crown (US$1.1 million) prize.

"A wealth of discoveries awaits those who succeed in capturing the waves and interpreting their message."

Triggered when super-dense black holes merge, the waves were detected using laser beams at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). “The signal was extremely weak when it reached Earth, but is already promising a revolution in astrophysics,” the Academy said. 

Physics is the second of this year’s crop of Nobel Prizes and comes after Americans Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine on Monday. 

The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were first awarded in 1901 in accordance with the will of Swedish business tycoon Alfred Nobel, who bequeathed much of the fortune he generated from his discovery of dynamite.  Among the science prizes, physics has often taken centre stage with laureates including scientific super stars such as Einstein, Niels Bohr and Marie Curie, one of only two women to win a Nobel Prize for Physics. 

Weiss won half the prize with Barish and Thorne sharing the other half.