Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics Awarded for Detection of Gravitational Waves

The collision of two black holes holes—a tremendously powerful event detected for the first time ever by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO—is seen in this still from a computer simulation. LIGO detected gravitational waves, or ripples in space and time generated as the black holes spiraled in toward each other, collided, and merged. This simulation shows how the merger would appear to our eyes if we could somehow travel in a spaceship for a closer look. It was created by solving equations from Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity using the LIGO data. Credit: SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project (

The Selection Committee of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics announced on Monday a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizing scientists and engineers contributing to the momentous detection of gravitational waves – a detection announced on February 11, 2016. The Special Breakthrough Prize can be conferred at any time in recognition of an extraordinary scientific achievement. The $3 million award will be shared between two groups of laureates: the three founders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), who will each equally share $1 million; and 1012 contributors to the experiment, who will each equally share $2 million.

The founders are Ronald W. P. Drever, Caltech, professor of physics, emeritus; Kip S. Thorne, Caltech, the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, emeritus; and Rainer Weiss, MIT, professor of physics, emeritus.

The contributors sharing the prize include 1005 authors of the paper describing the discovery of gravitational waves from the numerous institutions involved in LIGO and its sister experiment, the Virgo Collaboration. Also sharing the prize are seven scientists who made important contributions to the success of LIGO. The names of the contributors are listed below.

The laureates will be recognized at the 2017 Breakthrough Prize ceremony in the fall of 2016, where the annual Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (distinct from the special prize) will also be presented, along with the Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences and Mathematics. Nominations for these prizes are open until May 31, 2016 and can be made online at

Stephen Hawking, who won the Special Breakthrough Prize in 2013, said, “This discovery has huge significance: firstly, as evidence for general relativity and its predictions of black hole interactions, and secondly as the beginning of a new astronomy that will reveal the universe through a different medium. The LIGO team richly deserves the Special Breakthrough Prize.”

Yuri Milner, one of the founders of the Breakthrough Prizes, said, “The creative powers of a unique genius, many great scientists, and the universe itself, have come together to make a perfect science story.”

Edward Witten, the chair of the Selection Committee, commented, “This amazing achievement lets us observe for the first time some of the remarkable workings of Einstein’s theory. Theoretical ideas about black holes which were close to being science fiction when I was a student are now reality.”


  1. What evidence do we have that gravity waves travel at the speed of light? I believe they do and I think I know why!

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