'A Win for Einstein': Caltech Professors Awarded Nobel Physics Prize for Gravitational Waves Breakthrough - NBC Bay Area

'A Win for Einstein': Caltech Professors Awarded Nobel Physics Prize for Gravitational Waves Breakthrough

Gravitational waves are extremely faint ripples in the fabric of space and time, generated by some of the most violent events in the universe

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    What to Know

    • Albert Einstein predicted the waves a century ago as part of his theory of general relativity

    • Gravitational waves are extremely faint ripples in the fabric of space and time

    • The waves detected by the laureates came from the collision of two black holes some 1.3 billion light-years away

    The Nobel Physics Prize 2017 has been awarded to three scientists, including two from Caltech in Southern California, for their discoveries in gravitational waves.

    Sweden's Royal Academy of Sciences announced Tuesday that the winners are Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Barry Barish and Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology. The three were key to the first observation of gravitational waves in September 2015.

    Barish received his Ph.D. in experimental high energy physics at the University of California, Berkeley.

    When the discovery was announced several months later, it was a sensation not only among scientists but the general public. Gravitational waves are extremely faint ripples in the fabric of space and time, generated by some of the most violent events in the universe.

    "These gravitational waves will be powerful ways for the human race to explore the universe -- not for the next few years or decades but for the next few centuries," Thorne told The Associated Press. 

    Barish, speaking by phone from Santa Monica, California, said he and his colleagues knew there was a good chance they would get recognized by the Nobel team. The call came at 2:41 a.m., beating his own alarm by 4 minutes.

    "There was some anticipation. But, the Swedish Academy is so secretive," he told The Associated Press.

    He added Tuesday's announcement was "a win for Einstein, and a very big one."

    Thorne called the award is "a win for the human race as a whole." He said he was a "little disappointed" that thousands other scientists who have worked on the project did not get to share the prize, adding: "Nevertheless I'm tremendously pleased to accept this" on their behalf.

    Weiss, in a phone call with the news conference at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said "I view this more as a thing that recognizes the work of a thousand people."

    Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago as part of his theory of general relativity, but he thought they might be too weak to be detected. General relativity says that gravity is caused by heavy objects bending space-time, which itself is the four-dimensional way that astronomers see the universe.

    The waves detected by the laureates came from the collision of two black holes some 1.3 billion light-years away. A light-year is about 5.88 trillion miles.

    The German-born Weiss was awarded half of the 9-million-kronor ($1.1 million) prize amount and Thorne and Barish will split the other half.

    For the past 25 years, the physics prize has been shared among multiple winners.

    Last year's prize went to three British-born researchers who applied the mathematical discipline of topology to help understand the workings of exotic matter such as superconductors and superfluids. In 2014, a Japanese and a Canadian shared the physics prize for studies that proved that the elementary particles called neutrinos have mass.