Image of the Milky Way and a black hole
Discovering the secrets of the universe such as black holes

Astrophysics experts from the University of Birmingham have welcomed the award of the 2017 Nobel prize in physics to a trio of gravitational wave science pioneers.

Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne received this year's award for their work in finding evidence to prove Einstein's famous theory of general relativity, and confirming the existence of a previously unknown population of black holes.

Astrophysicists from the University of Birmingham have played a key role in this achievement – contributing to many aspects of gravitational-wave science, first building hardware for the LIGO detection instrument and then sophisticated analysis tools to tease out from the data the properties of gravitational-wave sources.

Experts from the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy welcomed the award, adding their thoughts from a Birmingham perspective.

Professor Alberto Vecchio said: “Twenty years ago I was starting my career as a young physicist and had decided to work in gravitational wave science. Most of my colleagues told me in no uncertain terms that I was crazy. Still, the pioneering work by Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne and their vision seemed to me compelling: there was a fighting chance of detecting gravitational waves and, in doing so, unveil secrets of the universe.

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.”

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."

Dr Haixing Miao said: “The instruments are giants but extremely delicate and sensitive. It is really remarkable that we are able to build them on earth to catch waves from the distant universe.”

For more information, contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager at the University of Birmingham, on +44 (0)121 414 8254. For out-of-hours enquiries, call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

Image credit: Ute Kraus, Physics education group Kraus, Universität Hildesheim, Space Time Travel, (background image of the milky way: Axel Mellinger) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (] via Wikimedia Commons