Studies carried out by the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy contributed to research that has won this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics
The prize was attributed to three American professors – Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne – who found evidence to confirm Einstein’s theory of relativity. It is thought that this development will completely change how scientists see the universe.
The research was aided by over 1000 scientists from 18 countries worldwide. The University of Birmingham (UoB), alongside the University of Glasgow and the University of Cambridge, were part of a UK effort to help see the project to its conclusion.
Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein over a hundred years ago. In 1975, Rainer Weiss convinced Kip Thorne that these elusive waves might be detectable with lasers and, after Barry Barish secured funding in 1994, the project slowly gathered momentum.
However, it wasn’t until September of 2015 that the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) spotted the waves, which emanated from a collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago. This provided momentous evidence to prove Einstein’s observations.
Astrophysicists from UoB played a key role in this achievement. They developed hardware for LIGO and sophisticated analysis tools to extract information from the observatory’s data.
UoB professor Andreas Freise said: ‘The LIGO founders took a leap into the unknown, embarking on the mission to detect gravitational waves. Now several beautiful signals, recorded from black holes, have rewarded decades of efforts made by our international collaboration’.
Adding to this, Dr Alberto Sesana said: ‘It’s like we were ready to listen to some anonymous folk local band and we found ourselves overwhelmed by Beethoven’s 9th. Every single sound is carrying unprecedented information about the deepest mysteries of the universe’.
Students have also welcomed the news, suggesting that it feels ‘validating’ to be part of a university that is conducting pioneering, internationally recognised research. ‘It really gives us confidence that we are being taught by Nobel Prize winning scientists’, said one physics student. ‘There’s no better way of learning about gravitational waves than from the people who helped discover them. It’s like getting a lecture on the moon landing from Buzz Aldrin’.
The research that won this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics has been a hundred years in the making. UoB’s Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy are ecstatic to be part of such a monumental achievement.