Nobel Laureate Rainer Weiss to present at Penn State on April 18

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Rainer Weiss, a 2017 Physics Nobel Laureate, will present the Eberly Family Distinguished Lecture in Science at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18, in the Freeman Auditorium, 117 HUB-Robeson Center, on the Penn State University Park campus. This free public lecture, titled "Probing the Universe with Gravitational Waves," will highlight the discovery for which Weiss received his Nobel Prize.

Weiss, along with California Institute of Technology's Kip Thorne, Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, and Barry Barish, Ronald and Maxine Linde Professor of Physics, Emeritus, received the Nobel Prize in 2017 "for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves."

The discovery of gravitational waves in 2015, a hundred years after Albert Einstein predicted their existence, has opened a new window on the universe, giving us glimpses into the strongest gravitational interactions predicted by the theory of general relativity. Gravitational waves are tiny ripples in the geometry of space-time that serve as cosmic messengers, revealing a wealth of information about collisions of black holes and neutron stars that took place in distant parts of the universe long ago, when Earth was spawning the first multi-cellular life.

The lecture will describe some of the difficult history of gravitational-wave research and will explain the concepts that underlie some of the most sensitive detection instruments ever built on Earth. It also will describe the novel methods in data analysis that had to be invented to tease out information from the tiny displacements that these waves caused in the detector's interferometer mirrors — displacements of less than the radius of a proton.

The waveforms observed in these phenomenal discoveries, in conjunction with Einstein’s equations, have provided detailed information of astrophysical processes that never before were possible to observe. Weiss will conclude his talk with a vision for the future of gravitational wave astronomy.

A professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Weiss is known for his pioneering measurements of the spectrum of the cosmic microwave background radiation in the universe, 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 Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) project, which studies microwave background radiation throughout the universe, and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) project.

He has received numerous scientific and group achievement awards from NASA, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology 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. Weiss is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the New York Academy of Sciences, and Sigma Xi. He also is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has served on nine National Research Council 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.

The Eberly Family Distinguished Lecture series was inaugurated in 2001 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the renaming of the Eberly College of Science on March 17, 1990, in honor of one of its benefactors, the Eberly Family, of Uniontown, Pennsylvania.

For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Communications by e-mail at or by phone at 814-863-4682.

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Last Updated April 12, 2018