Rainer Weiss

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Election Year: 2000
Primary Section: 13, Physics
Secondary Section: 12, Astronomy
Membership Type: Member

Research Interests

Most of my research has been dedicated to establishing an observational and experimental basis for relativistic gravitation. In this I have been influenced by the work of Robert Dicke in the early 1960s. Because the relativistic effects are usually small, the research tends toward the development of techniques to measure small quantities with precision and to understand the limitations in the measurements. As a young physicist I worked with the methods developed by I. I. Rabi and J. R. Zacharias to measure the properties of isolated molecules and atoms. This led to the development of atomic clocks and the frequency stabilization of lasers. Later research was carried out to measure the spectrum and angular distribution of the cosmic background radiation, first from balloon platforms and subsequently using the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite. In the early 1970s I began to work on the laser interferometric detection of gravitational waves which has grown into the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) project and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna mission (LISA). The aim of both projects is to detect gravitational waves from astrophysical sources, LIGO between 10 Hz to several kHz and LISA between 1/10000 to 1/10 of a Hz. Detectable gravitational waves will come from accelerating mass in highly relativistic regions with strong gravitational fields. The waves will offer a "look" at the strong field gravitation in the vicinity of black holes and possibly the earliest moments of the Universe.

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