Special prize

Print edition : June 10, 2016

Numerical simulations of the gravitational waves emitted by the inspiral and merger of two black holes. The coloured contours around each black hole represent the amplitude of the radiation: the blue lines represent the orbits of the black holes and the green arrows represent their spins. Photo: C. Henze/NASA Ames Research Centre

THE Selection Committee of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics announced on May 2 a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics that recognises the scientists and engineers who contributed to the momentous detection of gravitational waves (GWs)on September 14, 2015, and which was announced on February 11, 2016. GWs are minuscule distortions of space-time caused by the movement of massive bodies. The detected waves originated from the violent collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago somewhere in the southern universe. They propagated through the universe and arrived on the earth, causing minute ripples in the local space-time region, which the Laser Interferometer GW Observatory (LIGO) in the U.S. picked up.

The $3-million award will be shared between thus: the three founders of LIGO, who will each equally share $1 million, and the 1,012 contributors to the experiment, who will each equally share $2 million. The founders are Ronald W.P. Drever, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Caltech; Kip S. Thorne, The Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics (Emeritus), Caltech; and Rainer Weiss, Emeritus Professor of Physics, MIT. The second set includes the 1,005 authors of the paper “Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger” that appeared in Physical Review Letters on February 11. The 1,005 authors include 37 Indian scientists from institutions such as the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune; the TIFR, Mumbai; the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences of the TIFR, Bengaluru; the Chennai Mathematical Institute; the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata; IISER, Thiruvananthapuram; IIT Gandhinagar; the Institute for Plasma Research, Gandhinagar; and the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, Indore. The remaining seven are scientists who made important contributions to the success of LIGO: Luc Blanchet, Thibault Damour, Lawrence Kidder, Frans Pretorius, Mark Scheel, Saul A. Teukolsky and Rochus E. Vogt. The award ceremony will be held in the fall of 2016.