National Academy of Sciences Honors LIGO Researchers
BATON ROUGE – The National Academy of Sciences announced today that LSU Professor
of Physics and Astronomy Gabriela González is one of the recipients of the academy’s
2017 Award for Scientific Discovery. González is currently the elected spokesperson
for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, Scientific Collaboration,
which includes the work of 90 institutions and more than 1,000 researchers around
the globe. Since its establishment in 1997, the LSC spokesperson has led the organization
that established and carried out the scientific program of LIGO. González has served
as the LSC spokesperson for the past almost six years. She shares the award with former
LSC spokespersons David Howard Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory at
California Institute of Technology and a professor of physics at the University of
Florida, and Peter R. Saulson, Martin A. Pomerantz ’37 Professor of Physics at Syracuse
Saulson served as the first elected LSC spokesperson, filling a role first established
by physics pioneer and LIGO co-founder Rainer “Rai” Weiss. Reitze succeeded him. Currently
González is the longest serving elected LSC spokesperson.
The efforts of the award recipients combined 19 years of leadership paid off. In 2016,
the LSC announced that it had observed gravitational waves from two colliding black
holes, a collision that caused ripples in spacetime that could be measured on Earth.
The observation, hailed as one of the most important scientific discoveries of 2016,
proved the existence and properties of gravitational waves first predicted by Albert
Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity a century earlier and capped a 60-year
experimental quest involving thousands of researchers from around the world. More
importantly, the detection of gravitational waves passing through Earth on Sept. 14,
2015 and then again on Dec. 26, 2015, started a new field of gravitational wave astronomy
with many more discoveries to come.
The National Academy of Sciences Award for Scientific Discovery is presented every
two years to recognize an accomplishment or discovery in basic research, achieved
within the previous five years, that is expected to have a significant impact on one
or more of the following fields: astronomy, biochemistry, biophysics, chemistry, materials
science or physics through the selection of recipients of the award. The awards rotate
among these fields as determined by the NAS Council. To be eligible for an award,
a candidate must be a scientist at a university, college or other research institution
within the U.S. The award was endowed in 2014 in honor of John P. Schaefer through
a gift from Research Corporation for Science Advancement, or RCSA, and the Frederick
Gardner Cottrell Foundation. This award is presented with a medal, a $50,000 cash
prize and $50,000 to support the recipient’s research.
About Gabriela González
González was named one of the “Ten People who Mattered” by the scientific journal Nature. González received the Bruno Rossi prize from the American Astronomical Society, the Jesse W. Beams award and the Edward A. Bouchet award from the American Physical Society, and was named Scientist of the Year by Great Minds in STEM. She was also awarded the highest distinction from the Senate
of Argentina, the Honorable Domingo Faustino Sarmiento award. As part of the LIGO
team, she received the 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics and the 2016 Gruber Cosmology Prize.
González was born and raised in Córdoba, Argentina. She studied physics at the University
of Córdoba, and came to the U.S. to pursue her Ph.D. from Syracuse University, with
Peter Saulson as her advisor. She worked as a staff scientist in the LIGO group at
MIT with Rai Weiss until 1997 when she joined the faculty at Penn State. In 2001,
she joined the faculty at LSU, where she is a professor of physics and astronomy.
As an experimental physicist, her current research involves the reduction and characterization
of noise to enhance the laser interferometers’ sensitivity to detect gravitational
waves, calibrate the detectors and analyze data.
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