“Nobel prize for Physics 2017” – The song of the cosmos

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The Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 winners: Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne

On October 3rd the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 was announced. Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne were jointly awarded the prize "for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves". The observation of the first gravitational signal emitted by the merging of two black holes on February 2016 has been the confirmation of one of the major predictions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The signature of the collision was ripples in space and time that could be “heard” (https://www.livescience.com/53694-sound-of-merging-black-holes.html) on earth  from a distance of a billion light years away - about 1/50 the size of universe.

Designing and building a detector (the “microphone”) required building one of the most sensitive devices ever designed. The detector can pick-up distortions (in space) of less than 1/1000 of proton diameter over a distance 4km. This was a huge multi-decadal undertaking by the science community and stands as one of the greatest scientific milestones this century. Scientists all around the world celebrated this discovery as important step forwards in our quest to understand its fundamental properties of the universe.

Prof Carsten P Welsch, Head of the Physics Department, says: “This is well deserved award and a research area where Liverpool has made many important contributions in the past. For example, the Liverpool telescope, the largest fully robotic telescope in the world, helped search for the 1st Gravitational Wave events detected by the LIGO experiment. Together with colleagues from the Astrophysics Research Institute (ARI) at Liverpool John Moores University, our researchers are currently investigating questions around gravitational waves within our new Centre for Doctoral Training LIV.DAT on Big Data Science.”

The observation of gravitational waves will allow us to test the validity of general relativity and probe the nature of dark matter and dark energy. Dr Monica D’Onofrio, leader of the Liverpool team working at CERN at the energy frontier energy commented “we are working very hard to find the fingerprints of dark matter on ATLAS. This is an inspirational time for us and we will continue to work day and night to add to this great step forwards by LIGO”. The Liverpool group is also trying to directly detect dark matter particles. Dr Sergey Burdin, who leads the search using the LZ detector in the USA adds “… as we learn to use gravitational waves to observe the large scale properties of dark matter, it remains vital to directly measure its quanta. That’s the only way we will ever understand the whole picture.”

Liverpool’s own prototype atom interferometer, is being developed to search for the dark contents of the universe. Dr Jon Coleman who leads this novel experiment comments “in the long run the techniques we are developing to measure dark energy could also be used to studying gravitational waves. The LIGO results make this a very exciting time for us all”.

Prof Themis Bowcock, Head of the Particle Physics cluster, says “The award of the Nobel Prize to Weiss, Barish and Thorne is a worthy testimony to the work of generations of scientists and engineers and the genius of Einstein. None of us should forget there has been a huge long term investment by UK in this programme and, most importantly, a very significant UK contribution. This also reiterates that in many cases we need decades to deliver scientific breakthroughs. If we are to recognize the vital nature of this research we must also ensure we retain an environment where this is possible. This is critical for our students, staff and society.”