Nobel Laureate to present 'Probing the Universe with Gravitational Waves' Feb. 9

February 07, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Nobel Laureate Barry C. Barish will give a free public lecture, titled "Probing the Universe with Gravitational Waves," at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9, in 104 Keller Building, University Park.

Nobel Prize winner Barry Barish.

Nobel Laureate Barry C. Barish

IMAGE: Barry C. Barish

Barish is the Maxine and Ronald Linde Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). His lecture is among the six weekly lectures in the 2019 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, which has the overall theme: "Cosmic Clues Open New Frontiers in Space Science." Registration is not required.

Barish was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in October 2017 along with fellow physicists Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne for their "decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves." LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, has been Barish's primary research interest since he became its principal investigator in 1994 and its director in 1997.

He led the LIGO effort through its final design stages to approval for funding by the U.S. National Science Foundation's National Science Board in 1994, and then through the construction and commissioning of the LIGO interferometers in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. In 1997, he created the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which now enables more than 1,000 collaborators world-wide to participate in LIGO.

The Initial LIGO detectors set significant limits on astrophysical sources of gravitational waves. A proposal for a more sensitive detector, Advanced LIGO, was developed while Barish was director. It was approved by the National Science Foundation in 2003 and then funded as a major research project by the U.S. Congress several years later. Advanced LIGO incorporates major new technological developments from LIGO's research-and-development efforts that will improve the instrument's sensitivity by 10 times over the sensitivity of Initial LIGO, significantly increasing its ability to detect most gravitational wave sources.

Barish's continuing leadership role in the implementation of Advanced LIGO includes serving on the LIGO Scientific Collaboration Executive Committee

On Sept. 14, 2015, during the first Advanced LIGO data run, the merger of two approximately 30-solar-mass black holes was detected and later reported in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters on Feb. 11, 2016 — 100 years after Einstein's prediction of gravitational waves. This dramatic observation was the first direct detection of gravitational waves and the first-ever observation of the merger of a pair of black holes. Impressively, this single observed event has uncovered new astrophysics by revealing the existence of heavy stellar black holes and has shown that they exist in pairs and that they merge within the lifetime of the universe. The future of this new field is exceptionally bright, as LIGO will continually increase its sensitivity and detection rates in future years.

Barish also is the former director of the Global Design Effort for the International Linear Collider (ILC), the highest-priority future project for particle physics worldwide. He has served on many prestigious science committees, including co-chairing the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel subpanel that developed a long-range plan for U.S. high-energy physics in 2001. He has chaired the Commission of Particles and Fields and the U.S. Liaison committee to the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, and he has been very active in international collaboration for physics.

In 2002, Barish received the Klopsteg Award of the American Association of Physics Teachers and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. He was given a presidential appointment and has served on the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation and advises the U.S. president and congress on policy issues related to science, engineering and education

Barish is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Physical Society (APS). In 2011, he was elected and served as president of the APS, a society of 50,000 members. Barish has been honored by the University of Bologna (2006), the University of Florida (2007), and the University of Glasgow (2013) with honorary doctorates. More information about Barish's scientific achievements is available here.

The two remaining lectures in the 2019 Frontiers of Science series will be in Berg Auditorium, 100 Huck Life Sciences Building on the Penn State University Park campus:

  • Feb. 16 at 11 a.m.: "The Ghost Particle: A New Tool for Deep-Space Discoveries" by Doug Cowen, professor of physics and of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State.
  • Feb. 23 at 11 a.m.: "The Universe Beyond Einstein: Lessons from Primordial Messengers" by Ivan Agullo, assistant professor of physics at Louisiana State University.

About the Lectures on the Frontiers of Science

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science is a program of the Eberly College of Science that is designed for the enjoyment and education of residents of the central Pennsylvania area and beyond. Financial support for the 2019 lectures is provided by the Eberly College and by its Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos. For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College Office of Communications at 814-863-8453 or More information, including the archived recordings of previous lectures, is available online.

Last Updated February 08, 2019