The Nobel Prize in Physics 2017
Born: 29 September 1932, Berlin, Germany
Affiliation at the time of the award: LIGO/VIRGO Collaboration, ; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, USA
Prize motivation: “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”
Prize share: 1/2
Rainer Weiss was born in Berlin, where his father was a doctor and psychoanalyst and his mother an actress. His father was of Jewish descent, and the family fled Nazism to the United States. After schooling in New York, Weiss studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received his doctor’s degree in 1962. After a couple of years at Tufts University and Princeton University, he returned to MIT, which he has been associated with ever since. Rainer Weiss is married and has a daughter and a son.
One consequence of 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.