Cornell researchers Saul Teukolsky (left) and  Lawrence Kidder (right) contributed to a Nobel Prize-winning experiment.

Courtesy of Cornell University

Cornell researchers Saul Teukolsky (left) and Lawrence Kidder (right) contributed to a Nobel Prize-winning experiment.

October 4, 2017

Cornell Research Contributes to Nobel Prize Winning Experiment

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Though not direct recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics, announced Tuesday, two Cornell researchers made important contributions to the experiment.

The prize was given for “decisive contributions to the [Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory] detector and the observation of gravitational waves,” according to a Nobel Foundation press release.

Prof. Saul Teukolsky, physics and astrophysics, and senior research associate Lawrence Kidder are members of LIGO, a collaborative project that studies gravitational waves. Teukolsky and Kidder’s work ran comparison tests for the prize-winning research.

“I take Einstein’s theory of general relativity and use a computer program to predict what these gravitational waves should look like on Earth,” Kidder said. “The computer program that I use was developed partly here at Cornell, as well as some other universities.”

Up until two years ago, the only way to measure gravitational waves was through computer programs. However, the prize winners developed a method to directly detect these waves. Teukolsky and Kidder’s job was to compare the predicted and the actual waves.

“We need to be able to compare what is observed with what we think the laws should predict,” Kidder said. “This allows us to test [Einstein’s theory of relativity].”

Teukolsky, who was unavailable for comment at the time of publication, was also interested in the relationship between this experiment and Einstein’s theories.

“Einstein’s theory was written down 100 years ago. It made bizarre predictions about warped space and time, including the existence of black holes and gravitational waves,” he said in a statement. “This remarkable experiment has detected gravitational waves and confirmed that they came from colliding black holes far away from the earth.”

The impacts of this newfound ability are huge, Kidder explained, adding that “this opens a new window of how to look at the universe.”

“Gravitational waves will allow astronomers to probe black holes and neutron stars,” he said. “It’s a new technique of observing the universe.”

Kidder and Teukolsky both expressed gratitude of being involved with the experiment and praised the researchers who won the prize.

“The Prize celebrates a remarkable experiment, and Cornell was honored to play a role in the theoretical work that backed up the great discovery,” Teukolsky said in a statement.

“It’s a very, very exciting day for the field of gravitational physics and it was a very well-deserved Nobel Prize,” Kidder said. “It’s gratifying to see that the area of research I’ve been working on, that I could make a small contribution to work that eventually won the Nobel Prize.”