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Science Technology

The 2017 Nobel Prize For Physics Goes To Three Scientists Who Proved Einstein Right (fastcompany.com) 124

An anonymous reader shares a report: The three physicists, Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Barry Barish, won the coveted prize for the detection of gravitational waves -- the ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were first predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago. Weiss, Thorne, and Barish made the discovery as part of the LIGO/VIRGO Collaboration back in February 2016. It was then that they had recorded gravitational waves coming from the collision of two massive black holes a billion light-years away.
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The 2017 Nobel Prize For Physics Goes To Three Scientists Who Proved Einstein Right

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @10:26AM (#55301419)
    That's not even possible. The earth has only existed for 6,000 years.
  • A little more detail (Score:5, Informative)

    by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @10:30AM (#55301455) Homepage

    Kip Thorne has done a lot of impressive work, not just on LIGO. In this context though, Thorne, Weiss, and Ronald Drever (who died last year and thus wasn't eligible for the Nobel), proposed a detector of this type in the 1980s. Barry Barish got the prize as the LIGO director.

    Since the initial work with LIGO, similar apparatuses are also coming online, including Virgo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgo_interferometer [wikipedia.org] . There's also a proposal to set up a similar system in India https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Initiative_in_Gravitational-wave_Observations [wikipedia.org]. Having multiple detectors will have a whole host of benefits: this type of system has trouble detecting waves that come from certain angles so having multiple separate detectors will help cover those angles. Also, since we can measure the exact time difference from when a given wave hits the detectors we can use that to pinpoint the location much more narrowly. Along with neutrino telescopes, this sort of system is pretty much one of only two ways we can get information about far away stellar objects that isn't simply from the electromagnetic spectrum.

    • I thought Morley and Michelson invented it
      • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @10:43AM (#55301549) Homepage
        While Morley and Michelson did make inteferometers, what they were using to measure was very different than gravitational waves, and relied on a degree of sensitivity many orders of magnitude lower (hence for example they didn't use lasers (which of course they couldn't because they weren't invented yet)). Many aspects of LIGO are so different than a classical inteferometer that it really should be regarded for most purposes as a different type of instrument completely.
        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          It's fundamentally the same measurement: is the speed of light the same in all directions, over time? Now we understand that there's no difference between detecting a change in distance and a change in the speed of light, but the instrument doesn't need to understand that. So, really, what's the difference in the instruments beyond sensitivity?

          Heck, the difference between GR and the aether is itself fairly subtle: turns out the aether moves along with massive objects, but substitute "flow of aether" for "

          • I realize that you're re-introducing the aether as a "fun theory" and that's fine. However, one of the overwhelming conclusions from the Michelson-Morley experiment is that the aether does not exist because if it did, we would be able to measure the earth's movement in relation to it. The need for "more complex math" to rescue the aether is a sign that we should set it aside because of Occam's Razor.

            That's not to say that one theory is "right" and the other is "wrong" -- they're both "right" if they agree w

            • Over time, additional reasons have been discovered for preferring the Copernican system. The primary one is that the Copernican model agrees with the law of gravity, which the Ptolemaic cannot be made to do. In concert with the law of gravity, the Copernican system also has predictive power.
              • Newton's law of gravitation provides the gravitational force between two bodies as a function of the distance between them. Therefore, it is independent of the co-ordinate system in which the bodies are observed, because the distance doesn't change in those systems.

                Newton's laws of motion are stated canonically for an inertial frame of reference. They can still work in non-inertial frames, provided one introduces pseudo-forces to account for the effects of such frames.

                So, both the Copernican and Ptolemaic m

            • by lgw ( 121541 )

              Aether the way it was understood in M&M's day clearly does not exist, but that being said it remains not at all clear how light propagates (or perhaps it's one of those annoying "why" questions). But we are back to light being a wave (along with everything else, which I find mind-bending).

              What makes a good model? If you work with it day-to-day to solve problems: simplicity of (accurate) computation. But if you don't have those concerns, there's nothing wrong with preferring one for its aesthetic qua

          • I agree that the measurement itself is fundamentally the same, but to get to this level of sensitivity required massive innovations, many clever tricks, and extremely precise optics. It is obviously a continuation of the line of thinking of M&M, but that's in the same way say the Saturn V is a continuation of the line of thinking as the V-2 or the Redstone.
            • by lgw ( 121541 )

              I like the way the Saturn V is the height of rocketry in your example. Not sure I disagree, mind you, until SpaceX makes re-use routine.

              • I actually originally had written it with the Falcon 9 as the example but it seemed that sticking to non-reusable rockets would make the analogy more clear so I edited it to the Saturn V before submitting.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Do you know the reasoning behind the rule against posthumous nobel prize awards? If someone did the work, shouldn't they be recognized even after they've died?

      • I think it is closer to a Genius Grant in that respect. Guy is dead so he won't be doing any more work.

      • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @10:46AM (#55301579) Homepage
        It dates to the 1970s when they firmed up a lot of the rules (including that it could only go to at most three people). Prior to that, it had gone to someone who had very recently died. The thought process isn't completely clear. It appears that since the original bequest stated that the reward should go to work in the previous year (although it very often in practice does not), that if the person was dead, then they had obviously not done recent enough work. Another thought process seems to be that if it is in part to promote further work, then giving it to a dead person doesn't make sense.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          If Nobels could be awarded to dead people, the backlog of deserving winners (which becomes more apparent over time) would leave no room for contemporaries to win them.

        • Still it seems awkward to award a prize to someone for supplying supporting evidence to support a theory, where the actual theory didn't rate the prize.

      • I expect there are a few reasons.
        1. The reward money and prestige should be used towards further investment into the area they have won.
        2. International legal issues of who would be the next of kin(s), In some countries Say a noble peace prize goes to someone who fought against the evil rule of his older brother. If he had died, the Evil older brother may be the one who got the Nobel Prize award, thus funding the Evil they were rewarding trying to stop.
        3. How far should you go back. They were a lot of imp

      • Maybe you should question the Fields Medal rules first?
    • by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @11:00AM (#55301671)

      Building LIGO wasn't just the effort of these three. No doubt hundreds of very talented engineers participated in the design and building of LIGO not to mention the many, many bureaucrats that, although often vilified, made this possible by manipulating the levers of government and other institutions.

      I hope they receive some recognition also.

      • I'll be impressed when someone builds a working LIGO with LEGO.

    • by habig ( 12787 )

      Kip Thorne has done a lot of impressive work, not just on LIGO. In this context though, Thorne, Weiss, and Ronald Drever (who died last year and thus wasn't eligible for the Nobel), proposed a detector of this type in the 1980s. Barry Barish got the prize as the LIGO director.

      A bit more context - Barish was more than merely a director. While the idea was certainly Thorne and Weiss, Barish was the guy who came in and made the whole project actually work.

      As with most modern science, hundreds of scientists and engineers have worked over decades to get the result being celebrated. But if you have to pick three, this is a good choice. Note that while the Nobels are constrained to three people, the Breakthrough Prize is not: it was awarded to the whole collaboration last year.

      • by habig ( 12787 )
        Also note: 1/2 the prize went to Weiss (Idea and a lot of the implementation), and the other half to Thorne (idea) and Barish (rest of implementation). So if you've got to boil a big thing down really simply (and the Nobel people do), that's how they did it.
    • One should note that Kip Thorne also collaborated on one of the greatest physics books ever written. It should be up there with Darwins "On The Origin of Species". To quote wikipedia - Gravitation is a physics book on Einstein's theory of gravity, written by Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne, and John Archibald Wheeler and originally published by W. H. Freeman and Company in 1973. Owing to its prominence, it is frequently abbreviated MTW after its authors' initials. The book, which has more than 1200 pages,

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A Nobel prize for Kip Thorne has been a long time coming, he's been near the top in Physics for as long as I can remember.

    Well done sir, to you and your collegues!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @10:52AM (#55301617)

    Thorne was profiled in one episode of a 1992 (?) six-part series on PBS called "The Astronomers", as was a Moscow-based colleague, whose name escapes me - both in the area of cosmology. While many astronomers used large-scale equipment to do their work, Thorne et al basically needed a pad of paper and a pencil. The Astronomers still one of the best series on the subject.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Cheers for Kip Thorne. The guy basically dedicated his whole life to general relativity (real physical theory not some superstring goose chase) and a good part of that to advancing the experimental side of general relativity.
      I recommend people read the book he wrote in 1994 titled Black Holes & Time Warps Einstein's Outrageous Legacy. It's one hell of a read.

  • These guys were a lock for the prize as soon as their paper was published. The only question was in which year would it be awarded. Awesome work.
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @11:17AM (#55301821)

    Would they still win the award if Einstein was wrong, and their experiments disproved it?

    There is a lot of Real science that goes on, and the final results are no results, no correlation found.... Not finding something that is considered true, is just as valuable.

    • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @11:32AM (#55301933) Homepage
      Yes, completely. If we had failed to detect gravitational waves it would be an incredibly big deal. Right now, we're trying to understand how to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. If LIGO had not detected gravitational waves that would be a major sign of what to do, and would also help us see a large-scale area where GR breaks down (right now, QM works very well on a small scale and GR works very well on a large scale). Some people actively expressed disappointment that LIGO not only detected the waves but detected waves that matched the predictions of GR nearly perfectly.
    • It's damn difficult to prove that, since you didn't find it, it doesn't exist. A negation is, in fact, the complement within a set having a frontier which we don't know how far may extend.

      Had Weiss, Thorne, and Barish caught no waves even after decades, people might have begun to suspect gravity waves don't exist. No prize would have been granted for a suspicion, though.

      • It's damn difficult to prove that, since you didn't find it, it doesn't exist.

        Actually, conceptually it would be easy to prove that gravitational waves did not exist: just build a detector sensitive enough to detect gravitational waves from a source which is well known and understood and if you don't detect them Einstein would be wrong since GR makes clear predictions.

        Practically that is extremely hard because any source you are certain of will be so weak that it is almost guaranteed to be impossible to detect the waves it produces with current technology. This is why LIGO had to

    • by Khashishi ( 775369 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @12:50PM (#55302549) Journal

      Absolutely! That would be a very exciting development indeed, if it were to happen.
      Consider the Michelson-Morley experiment. It _failed_ to detect the aether. And it is one of the most famous experiments in history.

    • Newton was wrong. Einstein has been proven wrong. Darwin has been proven wrong.

      Einstein did not fully get quantum mechanics. He added a fudge factor to "stop" the universe from expanding. Once it was shown the universe was indeed expanding, he removed the fudge factor and admitted it was a mistake.

      Darwin had many hypotheses about many evolutionary features. His ideas of how mammals could have evolved is definitely wrong. His ideas of ocean subsidence that "raised" the islands where obviously marine shel

    • True, the Science would be sounds but the Nobel committee is as corrupt as the IOC these days.

      How did the inventor of the blue LED win a Nobel prize while the inventor of the LED (including red, orange, yellow, and green) didn't share it even though he's still alive.

      It's all corruption and politics. And don't even get started on Peace and Literature.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @11:26AM (#55301897)

    Okay, I realize the prize isn't supposed to be made posthumously, but - the Nobel committee should have additionally named Albert Einstein and Honorary Living Person for the day and then added him to the list.

    Sure, he's already won it before... but, it's been a century and we keep getting reminders just how amazing the guy was.

  • Well, Chemistry and some other stuff too, but not really, the Nobel commission didn't want to talk about that other stuff.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Well, Chemistry and some other stuff too, but not really, the Nobel commission didn't want to talk about that other stuff.

      Einstein got the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics mostly for the photoelectric effect. It specifically says: "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect"

      He did not get a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Did you mean to say he didn't get the Nobel for General Relativity?

    • He should have gotten 3 Nobel Prizes.

  • It does my heart good to see Kip Thorne share in this prize. I love it when good things happen to good people.

    My work takes me into science classrooms, and I meet a lot of science teachers. In the course of a discussion about letting bright kids really stretch their capabilities, an elementary school teacher in a small Ontario town told me he tried to contact Thorne for information wormholes and time travel.

    Thorne responded with an email 'way beyond the teachers wildest dreams. The student was pleased to

  • For showing up that Al Gore fellow :(
  • Well, they'd have gotten the Nobel earlier if they proved Einstein wrong.

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