Ronald Drever, professor of physics, emeritus; Kip Thorne, Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus; Rai Weiss, MIT professor of physics, emeritus; and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) discovery team have been selected to receive the 2016 Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize for their observation of gravitational waves, distortions in the fabric of spacetime. The Cosmology Prize honors a leading cosmologist, astronomer, astrophysicist, or scientific philosopher for theoretical, analytical, conceptual, or observational discoveries leading to fundamental advances in our understanding of the universe.
In a press release, the Gruber Foundation called the detection of gravitational waves a "technologically herculean and scientifically transcendent achievement."
The existence of gravitational waves was predicted by Albert Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity, but it was not until the 1960s that technological and theoretical advances made detection even possible to consider. In the 1970s, Thorne founded a research group at Caltech to study the theory of gravitational waves. Weiss had developed a design for a gravitational wave detector; he and Thorne recruited Drever, one of the leading creators of gravitational-wave interferometer prototypes, to lead what would become LIGO. On September 14, 2015, during the first observations with the newly upgraded Advanced LIGO interferometers, LIGO detected the first signal of gravitational waves—the result of the collision of two black holes to produce a single, more massive black hole. The detection was announced on February 11, 2016.
The Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize includes a $500,000 award, to be divided equally among Drever, Thorne, and Weiss. Each will also receive a gold medal.
Past recipients of the prize include Caltech's Charles Steidel, the Lee A. DuBridge Professor of Astronomy, who received the Gruber Prize in 2010 for his studies of the distant universe.
The award ceremony will take place on July 12 at the 21st International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation, held at Columbia University in the City of New York.