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Major Prizes for LIGO Founders and 1,012 Contributors to Gravitational-Wave Discovery

Black Hole Encounter

Credit: Aaron Geller/CIERA

Yuri Milner, a Russian entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and physicist, is giving $3 million as a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics to honor the scientists and engineers involved in the gravitational-wave discovery announced earlier this year. $1 million will be shared equally by the three LIGO founders, Ronald Drever, Kip Thorne, and Rainer Weiss, and the remaining $2 million will be shared equally by the 1,012 contributors.

This special award can be conferred by the organization’s selection committee at any time (outside of and in addition to the ordinary annual nomination process) to recognize an extraordinary scientific achievement. Mr. Milner, one of the founders of the Breakthrough Prizes organization, said, “The creative powers of a unique genius, many great scientists, and the universe itself, have come together to make a perfect science story.”

A second prestigious honor, the Gruber Foundation’s $500,000 Cosmology Prize, will be conferred to the founders and the entire LIGO team for “pursuing a vision to observe the universe in gravitational waves, leading to a first detection that emanated from the collision of two black holes.” The prize citation continues, “This remarkable event provided the first glimpse into the strong-gravity regime of Einstein’s theory of general relativity that governs the dynamics of black holes, giving direct evidence for their existence, and demonstrating that their nature is consistent with the predictions of general relativity.”

CIERA’s director, Vicky Kalogera, led the astrophysical interpretation of the discovery for the LIGO collaboration. Over the years her group pioneered ways of making detection source rate predictions and the development of methods for extracting information from gravitational-wave signals from binaries of spinning compact objects.

The following Northwestern members are co-authors on the discovery paper and hence awardees:

Vicky Kalogera (Weinberg, Physics and Astronomy)
Selim Shahriar (McCormick, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science)

Postdoctoral Fellows:
Chris Pankow (CIERA)
Laura Sampson (CIERA)

Graduate Students:
Joshua Yablon (McCormick, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science)
Mike Zevin (Weinberg, Physics and Astronomy)
Minchuan Zhou (Weinberg, Physics and Astronomy)
Zifan Zhou (McCormick, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science)

Undergraduate Students:
Ben Sandeen (current, majoring in Physics with minors in Classical Studies and Computer Science)
Scotty Coughlin (pre-doctoral research assistant in CIERA, and past Northwestern undergraduate, majored in Mathematics, Economics, and Classics)

Read the full announcement on
Go to The New York Times story.

Read the full press release on the Gruber Cosmology Prize.

Check out the Northwestern News story.