VILLANOVA, Pa.— Amber Stuver, PhD, an assistant professor of Physics at Villanova University, is a member of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) team whose founders have just been announced winners of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. The prize was awarded to Rainer Weiss, PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Barry Barish, PhD, University of California, Berkeley; and Kip Thorne, PhD, Princeton University, for their discovery of gravitational waves. Stuver has been a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration since 1999.
Albert Einstein first predicted, more than a century ago, the existence of gravitational waves through his theory of general relativity. LIGO’s first discovery of gravitational waves in September 2015 resulted from the collision of two black holes over a billion light years away from Earth. It was a breakthrough achievement for physicists and astronomers around the world. Since then, there have been three more discoveries of gravitational waves, the most recently in September 2017.
Stuver recently came to Villanova from the California Institute of Technology where she worked with the LIGO Livingston Observatory – one of only two LIGO detectors in the United States.
“This is an amazing step forward and tremendous recognition for LIGO and astrophysicists around the world,” said Stuver. “I’m honored and thrilled to continue my research on gravitational wave observations here at Villanova.”
The detectors work by using lasers to carefully measure the stretching and squeezing effect that gravitational waves exert on the space they pass through. The detectors are L-shaped and when a gravitational wave passes by the lengths of the arms change. This changes the way the laser light from one arm recombines with the light from the other and informs scientists that a gravitational wave is present and the details of what produced it.