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Physics Nobel prize winner wanted to come to India to motivate scientists

The Nobel prize winners all played a seminal role in the discovery of the gravitational waves in February 2016. A LIGO detector is coming up in India.

world Updated: Oct 04, 2017 12:23 IST
Malavika Vyawahare
Malavika Vyawahare
Physics Nobel,LIGO,Rainer Weiss
One of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) test masses in a 4-element suspension system.(Reuters)

Three American scientists, Rainer Weiss, Barry C Barish and Kip S Thorne won the 2017 Nobel prize in Physics on Tuesday. All three have a connection to India.

Rainer Weiss, an American physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology won the prestigious prize “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.”

What many people may not be aware of is that a LIGO detector is coming up in India and Weiss, who is one of the founders of the LIGO program had plans to come to India to motivate Indian engineers and physicists working on the project.

“I view this more as a thing that recognises the work of a thousand people.” Weiss said at a news conference after the announcement.

The LIGO or Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory was developed with the objective of detecting gravitational waves. The existence of the waves was first suggested by Einstein in 1916, which sparked a decades-long quest to prove their existence. In February 2016, a century later, the LIGO group announced that they has been able to detect the waves, that are considered as ripples in space-time.

The LIGO Laboratory currently comprises of LIGO Hanford, LIGO Livingston, Caltech, and MIT. Another detector is coming up in India in Hingoli, Maharashtra, the only LIGO detector outside the U.S., which is likely to be completed by 2020-24.

CNR Unnikrishnan at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research who is part of the LIGO-India project has known all three Nobel prize winners in different capacities. According to Unnikrishnan, age does not show on Rainer Weiss.

“I interacted with Prof Weiss when I visited the LIGO detector in Livingstone about 3 years ago,” he recounted,” there was a problem with the vacuum of the LIGO detector, despite being over 80, Weiss went around looking for the problem himself.”

One of the big challenges with LIGO, as with most scientific endeavours of this scale is that scientists and engineers have to work together. They are not always on the same page.

Weiss, is not a reserved person, according to the Indian scientist, and had expressed a desire to come to India to motivate the scientists and physicists working on the LIGO India project. The trip has not happened yet.

However, his fellow Nobel awardees this year have both been to India in recent years. Barry C Barish, an American experimental physicist and Kip S Thorne, an American theoretical physicist at California Institute of Technology, have both visited India in their professional capacities. Thorne was in India earlier this year for the Indian Science Congress held in Tirupati.

Weiss won half the prize with Barish and Thorne sharing the other half.

First Published: Oct 04, 2017 12:23 IST