ASPE 36th Annual Meeting Keynote Speaker

Dr. Rainer Weiss MIT on behalf of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration

The Beginning of Gravitational Wave Astronomy: Current State and Future

The first detection of gravitational waves was made in September 2015 with the measurement of the coalescence of two ~30 solar mass black holes at a distance of about 1 billion light years from Earth. The talk will begin with some of the history leading to the discovery and description of the technology used in the detection. A review will be given of more recent measurements of black hole events as welll as the first detection of the coalescence of two neutron stars and the beginning of multi-messenger astronomy. The talk will end with a discussion of some prospects for the new field.


RAINER WEISS SB ’55; PhD ’62 (NAS) is a Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Previously Dr. Weiss served as an assistant physics professor at Tufts University and has been an adjunct professor at Louisiana State University since 2001. Dr. Weiss is known for his pioneering measurements of the spectrum of the cosmic microwave background radiation, his inventions of the monolithic silicon bolometer and the laser interferometer gravitational wave detector and his roles as a co-founder and an intellectual leader of both the COBE (microwave background) Project and the LIGO (gravitational-wave detection) Project. He has received numerous scientific and group achievement awards from NASA, an MIT excellence in teaching award, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the National Space Club Science Award, the Medaille de l’ADION Observatoire de Nice, the Gruber Cosmology Prize, and the Einstein Prize of the American Physical Society. Dr. Weiss is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and he is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the New York Academy of Sciences, and Sigma Xi. He received his B.S. and Ph.D. in physics from MIT. Dr. Weiss is a member of the NAS and has served on nine NRC committees from 1986 to 2007 including the Committee on NASA Astrophysics Performance Assessment; the Panel on Particle, Nuclear, and Gravitational-wave Astrophysics; and the Task Group on Space Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Primary areas of Research:

  • Atomic Clocks
  • Cosmic Background Radiation Measurements
  • Gravitational Wave Detection

Rainer Weiss was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and for the first direct detection of gravity waves, which were first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916.

One consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity is the existence of gravitational waves. These are like ripples in a four-dimensional spacetime that occur when objects with mass accelerate. The effects are very small. Beginning in the 1970s the LIGO detector was developed. In this detector laser technology is used to measure small changes in length caused by gravitational waves. Rainer Weiss has made crucial contributions to the development of the detector. In 2015 gravitational waves were detected for the first time.