Special Breakthrough Prize awarded for detection of gravitational waves

The Selection Committee of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics has announced a special prize recognising scientists and engineers involved in the transformational detection of gravitational waves. The discovery took place 100 years after Albert Einstein predicted their existence.

The Gravitational Wave Group in the School of Physics and Astronomy have been involved in the Advanced LIGO project since its inception and will share a $3 million prize, along with the over 1000 members of the LIGO team world-wide. The Birmingham group have built components for the LIGO instruments and developed optical simulation tools. The group has also developed the techniques to extract the properties of binary black holes from the gravitational wave signatures, and has provided a significant contribution to the analysis of the data that has led to this discovery.

 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.’

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.’