Gravitational wave team earns Nobel Prize

Thursday 5 October 2017

Congratulations to the Department of Quantum Sciences for their part in the detection of gravitational waves for the first time, which has earned the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Barry Barish, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss won the award on behalf of an international team in which ANU played a key role.

The leader of the Australian Partnership in Advanced LIGO and Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery is ANU Professor David McClelland.

“It is fitting and apt that this landmark achievement in the history of physics should be recognised with Nobel prizes for the founders of LIGO,” said Professor McClelland from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

“ANU played an integral role in this amazing discovery, which has led to the award of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics. We are extremely proud to have played a part in this momentous event.”

ANU supplied equipment and techniques that are used in the Advanced LIGO detectors. 

The first confirmed observation of a gravitational wave, ripples in space-time caused by the cataclysmic collision of two large black holes 1.3 billion years ago, was a landmark discovery that opened up new fields in physics and astrophysics.

The international team has made three more detections of gravitational waves since the first detection in September 2015.

Professor Susan Scott, who is Leader of the General Relativity Theory and Data Analysis Group at ANU, said the 100-year journey of scientific discovery started with Einstein’s miraculous theory of general relativity in 1915.

“Two of the greatest predictions from Einstein’s general theory of relativity, black holes and gravitational waves, came together in this discovery,” said Professor Scott from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

“Australia has been involved from the beginning 30 years ago in the quest to create the most sensitive instrument on Earth that was required to detect the minute distortions of space-time which we call gravitational waves.”

ANU Vice-Chancellor and Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt AC congratulated the winners.

“Thorne and Weiss were the founders and architects of LIGO – giants of the field – and Barish brought it to fruition. They are fitting winners of the Nobel Prize,” Professor Schmidt said.

“A triumph of physics. The discovery of gravitational waves has led to a new age of gravitational wave astronomy, allowing scientists to unlock many secrets of the Universe,” said Professor Schmidt, who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.  

“In future, this technique will probe the nature of black holes, neutron stars, supernovae and other things not yet imagined. We may be able to look back to almost the beginning of time - just after the big bang, which we cannot do with light. This is just the beginning, I cannot wait to see what they discover next.

“On behalf of ANU, I congratulate the winners, and ANU and Australian researchers who have helped make this amazing discovery possible.”

Funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and led by ANU, Australia was one of the four partners in the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) along with the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom.


Distinguished Profes Susan Scott
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