Earlier this year, scientists confirmed the presence of gravitational waves, a cosmological feature first predicted by Albert Einstein. In recognition of this remarkable achievement, the scientists involved in the study have won the $US3 million ($3.9 million) Special Breakthrough Prize. The Special Breakthrough Prize was created by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner along with several technology pioneers, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The award gets handed out in the event of a particularly meaningful scientific breakthrough, and this one — the confirmation of gravitational waves — most certainly applies.
On February 11, researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) confirmed the presence of gravitational waves, ripples in the universe caused by highly energetic cosmological events. The source of this particular signal sprouted from a supermassive black hole collision that occurred some 1.3 billion years ago. Einstein predicted gravitational waves back in 1916, but it was LIGO that made an actual discovery possible.
"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," said physicist Stephen Hawking, who won the Special Breakthrough Prize in 2013. "The LIGO team richly deserves the Special Breakthrough Prize."
The three founders of LIGO — Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss and Ronald Drever — will each share $US1 million ($1.3 million). The 1012 scientists and engineers who contributed to the project will split the remaining $US2 million ($2.6 million) and will each receive roughly $US2000 ($2665) each. That group includes many of those involved in LIGO and its sister experiment, the Virgo Collaboration.
Hallelujah to that. These days, major scientific breakthroughs are rarely the result of a single individual or small team, so it's nice to see all the people involved in the project get rewarded. What's more, it's good to finally see scientists get the recognition and financial compensation they deserve.
"For us to spend basically a half-century since the three of us started working in this field, to have it actually be pulled off successfully in the manner we dreamed — it was really remarkable and wonderful," noted Thorne in a Reuters article. "I'm forever grateful to the team that got it done."
The winners will be honoured at the 2017 Breakthrough Prize ceremony to be held later this year.
Image: R. Hurt/Caltech/JPL