LIGO’s gravitational wave detection takes home a Nobel Prize

A theoretician, a hardware builder, and a project organizer share the honor.


From almost the moment their discovery was announced, everyone agreed that the first sighting of gravitational waves was going to win a Nobel Prize. The only questions were when and who would receive the honor. Both of those questions have now been answered. When is now, and who turned out to be three individuals who contributed to the project in very different ways.


Caltech’s Kip Thorne, a theoretician who made sure we knew what a gravitational wave would look like when we saw it, was one honoree. He was joined by Rainer Weiss, an MIT scientist who helped build some of the first prototype detectors that would eventually inspire the LIGO design, and Barry Barish, another Caltech physicist who was put in charge of the LIGO collaboration and became instrumental in ensuring that the hardware was built and that a large international collaboration was present to operate it and analyze the results.


While LIGO was a stunning success, its history suggests that there were countless ways it and the entire field of gravitational wave physics might have failed. And those ways all lead back to the very person whose work suggested that space-time itself could experience ripples.

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