Thirteen LSU Physicists and Graduate Students Among Team to Receive Special Breakthrough Prize for Gravitational Wave Detection

BATON ROUGE – A Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics will recognize the scientists and engineers contributing to the momentous detection of gravitational waves from two black holes colliding over a billion light years away. Thirteen physicists and graduate students from LSU, who conduct research where the detections were made at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, in Livingston, La., will be among the recipients of this prestigious honor.

“We are very glad the work done by many people over many decades is being recognized with this prize; we are very proud of the work done by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration I lead in the discovery of gravitational waves,” said Gabriela González, LSU professor of physics and astronomy, and the elected spokesperson of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

The award will be shared between two groups of laureates: the three LIGO founders and the 1,012 contributors worldwide to the experiment. The three LIGO founders are Ronald W. P. Drever, Caltech, professor of physics, emeritus; Kip S. Thorne, Caltech, the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, emeritus; and Rainer Weiss, MIT, professor of physics, emeritus.

The contributors sharing the prize include 1,005 authors of the paper describing the discovery of gravitational waves from the numerous institutions involved in LIGO, including LSU, and LIGO’s sister experiment, the Virgo Collaboration. Also sharing the prize are seven scientists who made important contributions to the success of LIGO. The announcement of the gravitational wave detection was made Feb. 11, 2016.

“The breathtaking observation of a never-before-observed system of black holes has earned LIGO its `O’ as a completely new kind of astronomical observatory,” said Joseph Giaime, LSU professor of physics and astronomy and LIGO-Livingston observatory head.

The laureates will be recognized at the 2017 Breakthrough Prize ceremony this fall, where the annual Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, which is distinct from the special prize, will also be presented, along with the Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences and Mathematics. This is the third year scientists from the LSU Department of Physics and Astronomy have been among the scientific research teams to receive a Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

In 2014, LSU Alumni Professor Bradley Schaefer and colleagues from the Supernova Cosmology Project received a share of the prize for their observation of distant supernovas. The key discovery was that these exploding stars, called type Ia supernovas, appear to be fainter than expected. This implies that the stars are farther away than previously thought, and that the expansion of the universe must be accelerating, not slowing down.

In 2015, LSU physicists Thomas Kutter, Martin Tzanov, William Metcalf and their students and postdoctoral scientists were among the scientific research teams to receive the prize for the fundamental discovery of neutrino oscillations and properties.

This year, the 13 LSU Department of Physics and Astronomy faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral scientists part of the team being recognized with the Special Breakthrough Prize include:

             • Thomas D. Abbott, graduate student
             • Christopher C. Buchanan, graduate student
             • Thomas R. Corbitt, professor
             • Jonathan Cripe, graduate student
             • Joseph Giaime, professor and LIGO-Livingston observatory head
             • Gabriela Gonzalez, professor and LIGO Scientific Collaboration spokesperson
             • Terra Hardwick, graduate student
             • Warren W. Johnson, professor
             • Marie Kasprzack, postdoctoral scientist
             • Keiko Kokeyama, former LSU postdoctoral scientist
             • Duncan M. Macleod, postdoctoral scientist
             • Robinjeet Singh, graduate student
             • Marissa Walker, graduate student

LIGO’s gravitational wave detectors were conceived and R&D was initiated in the 1960s. LIGO was built between 1994 and 2002 by Caltech and MIT in partnership with the National Science Foundation of the United States, with the aim of observing the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. After a major upgrade from 2010–2015, it almost immediately observed a gravitational wave distorting the structure of spacetime as it passed through the Earth. The detected distortion was less than a billionth of a billionth of a meter in size at LIGO’s two 4km observatories in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La. The wave emanated from two black holes with masses about 30 times that of the sun, spiraling into each other 1.3 billion light years away. The discovery inaugurates a new era of gravitational wave astronomy which will open a window onto some of the most dramatic and violent phenomena in nature as well as the mysteries of the early universe.

Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizes individuals who have made profound contributions to human knowledge. It is open to all physicists – theoretical, mathematical and experimental – working on the deepest mysteries of the Universe. The prize can be shared among any number of scientists.
The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics and the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics are funded by a grant from the Milner Global Foundation.

Breakthrough Prize
For the fifth year, the Breakthrough Prizes will recognize the world’s top scientists. Each prize is $3 million and presented in the fields of Life Sciences (up to five per year), Fundamental Physics (up to one per year) and Mathematics (up to one per year). In addition, up to three New Horizons in Physics and up to three New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes are given out to junior researchers each year. Laureates attend a televised award ceremony designed to celebrate their achievements and inspire the next generation of scientists. As part of the ceremony schedule, they also engage in a program of lectures and discussions. The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, and Yuri and Julia Milner. Selection Committees composed of previous Breakthrough Prize laureates choose the winners.

Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
A Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics can be awarded by the selection committee at any time, in addition to the Breakthrough Prize conferred through the ordinary annual nomination process. Previous winners of the special prize include seven leaders of the Large Hadron Collider teams that discovered the Higgs Boson.

The selection committee for the 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics included Nima Arkani-Hamed, Lyn Evans, Michael B. Green, Alan Guth, Stephen Hawking, Joseph Incandela, Takaaki Kajita, Alexei Kitaev, Maxim Kontsevich, Andrei Linde, Arthur McDonald, Juan Maldacena, Saul Perlmutter, Alexander Polyakov, Adam Riess, John H. Schwarz, Nathan Seiberg, Ashoke Sen, Yifang Wang and Edward Witten.


Additional Links:
Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger, Physical Review Letters
Breakthrough Prize:



Contact Mimi LaValle
LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy


Alison Satake
LSU Media Relations