Scientists and engineers who contributed to the detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory detector in Livingston Parish and Washington state were awarded a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.
The $3 million award will be shared between two groups: the three founders of LIGO, who will each share $1 million, and 1,012 contributors to the experiment, who will share $2 million, according to a news release.
Contributors include Joseph Giaime, head of the Livingston observatory and a professor of physics and astronomy at LSU, and LIGO spokeswoman and LSU colleague Gabriela Gonzalez.
Also included is Southern University graduate William Parker, who was at the helm of the Livingston control room when LIGO made the discovery.
The honorees will be recognized at the 2017 Breakthrough Prize ceremony in fall 2016.
In February, scientists working in Livingston Parish and Washington state announced the first-ever recorded detection of gravitational waves, confirming a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. It was the first direct detection of gravitational waves and also the first observation of a binary black hole merger.
The gravitational waves — which Einstein predicted in 1916 but believed would never be detected — were recorded by the Advanced LIGO detector in Livingston at 4:51 a.m. on Sept. 14, 2015. Seven milliseconds later, LIGO’s twin detector in Hanford, Washington, recorded the same signal.
Stephen Hawking, who won the Special Breakthrough Prize in 2013, said in the release, “This discovery has huge significance: firstly, as evidence for general relativity and its predictions of black hole interactions, and secondly as the beginning of a new astronomy that will reveal the universe through a different medium. The LIGO team richly deserves the Special Breakthrough Prize.”
The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizes individuals “who have made profound contributions to human knowledge,” the release said. The Special Breakthrough Prize can be conferred at any time in recognition of “an extraordinary scientific achievement.”