British scientists win share of world physics prize for gravitational waves discovery


British-based scientists involved in the worldwide effort to prove Albert Einstein's prediction of the existence of gravitational waves was correct have won a share of a top international prize.

It was announced in February that gravity waves - described as ripples in spacetime - had been detected by scientists. The discovery, made in the US, was hailed by some as the biggest scientific breakthrough of the century.

A boy and a girl watch a screen picturing the moon
(Luca Bruno/AP)

On Tuesday, the selection committee of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics announced that the scientists and engineers involved in the "momentus" detection project would be recognised.

A third of the three million-dollar (£2m) prize will be shared among three of the founders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo) at the heart of the project - Kip Thorne (Emeritus Caltech); Rainer Weiss (Emeritus MIT); and Professor Ronald Drever (Emeritus Caltech, formerly of Glasgow).

Meanwhile, the remaining two million dollars (£1.3m) will be shared equally among the 1,012 other researchers and engineers around the world who worked on the team or contributed to the research.

The University of Glasgow said some of its researchers are within that pool, each set to receive about 2,000 dollars (£1,350). The prestigious prizes will be awarded at a formal ceremony later this year.

University of Glasgow
(Danny Lawson/PA)

The university told in February how experts from its Institute for Gravitational Research led on the development, construction and installation of sensitive "mirror suspensions" at the heart of the Ligo detectors which were central to the first detection.

That technology was developed in partnership with the University of Strathclyde, as well as the universities of Birmingham and the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

Professor Sheila Rowan, director of the Institute for Gravitational Research at Glasgow, said: "I'm absolutely delighted that the 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics has been awarded for the observation of gravitational waves, and in particular that the committee chose specifically to share part of the prize amongst all the scientists and engineers who contributed to the discovery - the success of the field is built on the contributions of many people and it's terrific to see the whole Ligo team recognised."