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Gabriela González, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Louisiana State University; David H. Reitze, Executive Director, LIGO Laboratory at California Institute of Technology and a Professor of Physics at the University of Florida; and Peter R. Saulson, Martin A. Pomerantz ’37 Professor of Physics at Syracuse University will receive the 2017 NAS Award for Scientific Discovery.
Saulson served as the first elected spokesperson for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration, filling a role first established by physics pioneer and LIGO co-founder Rainer “Rai” Weiss. Reitze and currently González succeeded him in this effort, which involves the work of 90 institutions and more than 1,000 researchers around the globe. Since its establishment in 1997, the LSC spokesperson has led the organization that established and carried out the scientific program of LIGO.
The efforts of their combined 19 years of leadership paid off: In 2016, the LSC announced that it had observed the gravitational waves from two colliding black holes, a collision that caused ripples in spacetime that could be measured on Earth. The observation, hailed as one of the most important scientific discoveries of 2016, proved the existence and properties of gravitational waves first predicted by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity a century earlier and capped a 60-year experimental quest involving thousands of researchers from around the world. More importantly, the detection of gravitational waves passing through Earth on September 14, 2015 and then again on December 26, 2015, started a new field of gravitational wave astronomy with many more discoveries to come.
The NAS Award for Scientific Discovery is presented every two years to recognize an accomplishment or discovery in basic research, achieved within the previous five years, that is expected to have a significant impact on one or more of the following fields: astronomy, biochemistry, biophysics, chemistry, materials science, or physics through the selection of recipients of the Award. The Awards will rotate among these fields as determined by the NAS Council. To be eligible for an Award, a candidate must be a scientist at a university, college, or other research institution within the United States. Endowed in 2014 in honor of John P. Schaefer through a gift (Press Release) from Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) and the Frederick Gardner Cottrell Foundation. This award is presented with a medal, a $50,000 cash prize, and $50,000 to support the recipient’s research.