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Nobel laureate Rainer Weiss to deliver three Heilborn Lectures this week

Exploring the universe with gravitational waves is subject of April 5 public lecture

Image of Nobel laureate Rainer Weiss

Rainer Weiss, who won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the historic observation of gravitational waves, will deliver the Heilborn Lectures at Northwestern University on April 2, 3 and 5. They are free and open to all. The first two talks are of a technical nature, and the last one is for a lay audience.

A professor emeritus of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Weiss made crucial contributions to the design and development of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Gravitational waves were directly detected by LIGO for the first time Sept. 14, 2015, confirming a major prediction of Einstein’s theory of relativity and launching a new field in astronomy.

Weiss’ public lecture, “Exploring the Universe With Gravitational Waves,” will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, April 5, in the Ryan Auditorium of the Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston.  

Weiss will describe some of the difficult history of gravitational waves, which were first proposed about 100 years ago. He also will discuss the concepts used in the instruments and the methods for data analysis that enable the measurement of gravitational waves. The talk will end with a vision for the future of gravitational wave astronomy.

“Rai has been an inspiration to so many of us in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, and he also has been a pragmatic, down-to-earth mentor who leads by example with hard work, persistence and commitment,” said Northwestern’s Vicky Kalogera, a leading astrophysicist in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration who has worked with Weiss for decades.

Kalogera is the Daniel I. Linzer Distinguished University Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of CIERA (Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics).

“It is an honor and pleasure to be hosting Rai at Northwestern, thanks to the vision and generosity of alumnus George Heilborn,” Kalogera said. “The students and postdoctoral researchers especially will benefit from interacting with him and experience his remarkable clarity in thinking and genuine curiosity and enthusiasm.”

Weiss’ two technical lectures, geared to students and postdoctoral fellows, are: 

  • “Gravitational Waves: Astrophysics, Technical Challenges and Prospects for the Future,” 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, Tech L211, Technological Institute
  • “The Gamble Taken by the NSF with LIGO,” 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 3, Tech LR3, Technological Institute 

“The Heilborn Lectures are among the most distinguished events on Northwestern’s academic calendar,” said Kamal Seth, professor of physics in Weinberg College. “Over their 18 years of existence, they have attracted 12 Nobel Prize winners in physics.” Seth has organized the lectures since their inception in 2001.

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