Gravitational wave hunters win Nobel for physics

Image: LIGO Hanford
The beamlines for the LIGO detector site at Hanford stretch out across the desert terrain of southeastern Washington. Each arm of the L-shaped detector is 2.5 miles long. (Credit: LIGO)

This year’s Nobel Prize for physics is going, unsurprisingly, to three people who represent the hundreds of researchers behind the first direct detection of gravitational waves at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO.

Some of those researchers work at the LIGO detector in Hanford, Wash.

Like the Nobel-winning discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, LIGO’s discovery was the result of decades of work, undertaken with the expectation of finding evidence for an exotic phenomenon that was long predicted.

But because of the rules for the scientific Nobel Prizes, no more than three physicists could be given a share of the $1.1 million award.

The Nobel laurels are going to MIT’s Rainer Weiss and Caltech’s Barry Barish and Kip Thorne, who are recognized as ringleaders for the $500 million LIGO project.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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