3 American physicists to be rewarded for gravitational wave breakthrough

They will come to Shanghai in December to receive the Fudan-Zhongzhi Science Award and will share a 3 million yuan (US$455,150) prize.

Three American physicists are this year's Fudan-Zhongzhi Science Award winners for their contributions to the "first detection of gravitational wave in human history," Fudan University announced on Thursday.

The trio — Rainer Weiss, Kip Stephen Thorne and Barry Clark Barish — will  share a 3 million yuan (US$455,150) prize.

Predicted in 1916 by Albert Einstein on the basis of his theory of general relativity, gravitational waves are said to be "ripples in the curvature of space time" that propagate as waves at the speed of light.

But detecting them proved a much harder task.

The breakthrough came on September 14, 2015, when the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration team made the first observation of gravitational waves, which originated from a pair of merging black holes.

The announcement of the find was made on February 12, 2016 — causing huge excitement in the scientific world.

The detection not only proved Einstein's prediction on existence of gravitational waves, but also enabled scientists to observe black holes directly, opening a new window for human exploration of the universe.

Since then, the team has confirmed two more detections of gravitational wave events.

All the three award winners have made significant contributions to LIGO and its success in gravitational wave detection, said Chen Xiaoman, dean of the Fudan Institute for Advanced Study.

Weiss from Massachusetts Institute of Technology has invented the laser interferometer gravitational-wave detector that became the foundation for LIGO.

"His initial analysis of the detector’s major noise sources and the leadership in LIGO’s instrumentation science research made the detectors sensitive enough to detect gravitational waves for the first time in human history on September 14 in 2015," said Chen.

Thorne from California Institute of Technology created research programs that modeled gravitational waves emitted by astrophysical processes and developed data analysis methods.

Barish, also from California Institute of Technology, was former director of the LIGO project, leading the construction and initial operations of LIGO, as well as the creation of the international LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

"Professor Barish successfully turned LIGO from small science executed by only a few research groups into big science involving large collaborations and major infrastructures, which eventually enabled gravitational-wave detection," said Chen.

The award ceremony will be held on December 17 in Shanghai and all the winners said they will come and accept the prize in person, he added.

The Fudan-Zhongzhi Science Award was jointly founded by Fudan University and Zhongzhi Enterprise Group in 2015 to recognize global scientists who have made fundamental achievements in the fields of mathematics, physics and biomedicine.

Last year, it was given to two scientists in biomedicine area and the award will honor scientists in math next year.

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