Special Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics Awarded For Detection Of Gravitational Waves 100 Years After Albert Einstein Predicted Their Existence

Selection Committee of previous Breakthrough Prize winners recognizes contributors to experiment recording waves from two black holes colliding over a billion light years away

$3 million prize shared between LIGO founders Ronald W. P. Drever, Kip S. Thorne and Rainer Weiss and 1012 contributors to the discovery

May 2, 2016 (San Francisco) – The Selection Committee of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics today announced a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizing scientists and engineers contributing to the momentous detection of gravitational waves – a detection announced on February 11, 2016.

The Special Breakthrough Prize can be conferred at any time in recognition of an extraordinary scientific achievement. The $3 million award will be shared between two groups of laureates: the three founders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), who will each equally share $1 million; and 1012 contributors to the experiment, who will each equally share $2 million.

The founders are Ronald W. P. Drever, Caltech, professor of physics, emeritus; Kip S. Thorne, Caltech, the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, emeritus; and Rainer Weiss, MIT, professor of physics, emeritus.

The contributors sharing the prize include 1005 authors of the paper describing the discovery of gravitational waves from the numerous institutions involved in LIGO and its sister experiment, the Virgo Collaboration. Also sharing the prize are seven scientists who made important contributions to the success of LIGO. The names of the contributors are listed below.

The laureates will be recognized at the 2017 Breakthrough Prize ceremony in the fall of 2016, where the annual Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (distinct from the special prize) will also be presented, along with the Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences and Mathematics. Nominations for these prizes are open until May 31, 2016 and can be made online at breakthroughprize.org.

Stephen Hawking, who won the Special Breakthrough Prize in 2013, said, “This discovery has huge significance: firstly, as evidence for general relativity and its predictions of black hole interactions, and secondly as the beginning of a new astronomy that will reveal the universe through a different medium. The LIGO team richly deserves the Special Breakthrough Prize.”

Yuri Milner, one of the founders of the Breakthrough Prizes, said, “The creative powers of a unique genius, many great scientists, and the universe itself, have come together to make a perfect science story.”

Edward Witten, the chair of the Selection Committee, commented, “This amazing achievement lets us observe for the first time some of the remarkable workings of Einstein’s theory. Theoretical ideas about black holes which were close to being science fiction when I was a student are now reality.”


LIGO’s gravitational wave detectors were conceived and R&D was initiated in the 1960s. LIGO was built between 1994 and 2002 by Caltech and MIT in partnership with the National Science Foundation of the United States, with the aim of observing the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. After a major upgrade from 2010–2015, it almost immediately observed a gravitational wave distorting the structure of spacetime as it passed through the Earth. The detected distortion was less than a billionth of a billionth of a meter in size at LIGO’s two 4km observatories in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana. The wave emanated from two black holes with masses about 30 times that of the sun, spiraling into each other 1.3 billion light years away. The discovery inaugurates a new era of gravitational wave astronomy which will open a window onto some of the most dramatic and violent phenomena in nature as well as the mysteries of the early universe.

Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

A Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics can be awarded by the Selection Committee at any time, in addition to the Breakthrough Prize conferred through the ordinary annual nomination process. Previous winners of the special prize include seven leaders of the Large Hadron Collider teams that discovered the Higgs Boson.

The Selection Committee for the 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics included: Nima Arkani-Hamed, Lyn Evans, Michael B. Green, Alan Guth, Stephen Hawking, Joseph Incandela, Takaaki Kajita, Alexei Kitaev, Maxim Kontsevich, Andrei Linde, Arthur McDonald, Juan Maldacena, Saul Perlmutter, Alexander Polyakov, Adam Riess, John H. Schwarz, Nathan Seiberg, Ashoke Sen, Yifang Wang, and Edward Witten.

Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizes individuals who have made profound contributions to human knowledge. It is open to all physicists – theoretical, mathematical and experimental – working on the deepest mysteries of the Universe. The prize can be shared among any number of scientists.

The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics and the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics are funded by a grant from the Milner Global Foundation.

Breakthrough Prize

For the fifth year, the Breakthrough Prizes will recognize the world’s top scientists. Each prize is $3 million and presented in the fields of Life Sciences (up to five per year), Fundamental Physics (up to one per year) and Mathematics (up to one per year). In addition, up to three New Horizons in Physics and up to three New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes are given out to junior researchers each year. Laureates attend a televised award ceremony designed to celebrate their achievements and inspire the next generation of scientists. As part of the ceremony schedule, they also engage in a program of lectures and discussions. The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, and Yuri and Julia Milner. Selection Committees composed of previous Breakthrough Prize laureates choose the winners.

Information on the Breakthrough Prizes is available at www.breakthroughprize.org.

For media inquiries, contact media@breakthroughprize.org.


Rubenstein Communications, Inc.
New York, NY

Janet Wootten

The 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

Citation: For the observation of gravitational waves, opening new horizons in astronomy and physics.

Prize winners (1015):

Founders of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO):

  • Ronald W. P. Drever, Caltech
  • Kip S. Thorne, Caltech
  • Rainer Weiss, MIT

Сontributors who are authors of the paper Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger (Physical Review Letters, 11 February 2016) listed below.

Contributors who also made important contributions to the success of LIGO:

  • Luc Blanchet, CNRS
  • Thibault Damour, IHES
  • Lawrence Kidder, Cornell University
  • Frans Pretorius, Princeton University
  • Mark Scheel, Caltech
  • Saul A. Teukolsky, Cornell University
  • Rochus E. Vogt, Caltech


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Rabeling,20 H. Radkins,37 P. Raffai,54 S. Raja,48 M. Rakhmanov,83 C. R. Ramet,6 P. Rapagnani,79,28 V. Raymond,29 M. Razzano,18,19 V. Re,25 J. Read,22 C. M. Reed,37 T. Regimbau,53 L. Rei,47 S. Reid,50 D. H. Reitze,1,5 H. Rew,120 S. D. Reyes,35 F. Ricci,79,28 K. Riles,98 N. A. Robertson,1,36 R. Robie,36 F. Robinet,23 A. Rocchi,13 L. Rolland,7 J. G. Rollins,1 V. J. Roma,59 J. D. Romano,83 R. Romano,3,4 G. Romanov,120 J. H. Romie,6 D. Rosińska,127,43 S. Rowan,36 A. Rüdiger,8 P. Ruggi,34 K. Ryan,37 S. Sachdev,1 T. Sadecki,37 L. Sadeghian,16 L. Salconi,34 M. Saleem,108 F. Salemi,8 A. Samajdar,123 L. Sammut,85,114 L. M. Sampson,82 E. J. Sanchez,1 V. Sandberg,37 B. Sandeen,82 G. H. Sanders,1 J. R. Sanders,98,35 B. Sassolas,65 B. S. Sathyaprakash,91 P. R. Saulson,35 O. Sauter,98 R. L. Savage,37 A. Sawadsky,17 P. Schale,59 J. Schmidt,8 P. Schmidt,1,76 R. Schnabel,27 R. M. S. Schofield,59 A. Schönbeck,27 E. Schreiber,8 D. Schuette,8,17 B. F. Schutz,91,29 J. Scott,36 S. M. Scott,20 D. Sellers,6 A. S. Sengupta,94 D. Sentenac,34 V. Sequino,25,13 A. Sergeev,109 G. Serna,22 Y. Setyawati,52,9 A. Sevigny,37 D. A. Shaddock,20 T. Shaffer,37 S. Shah,52,9 M. S. Shahriar,82 M. Shaltev,8 Z. Shao,1 B. Shapiro,40 P. Shawhan,62 A. Sheperd,16 D. H. Shoemaker,10 D. M. Shoemaker,63 K. Siellez,53,63 X. Siemens,16 D. Sigg,37 A. D. Silva,11 D. Simakov,8 A. Singer,1 L. P. Singer,68 A. Singh,29,8 R. Singh,2 A. Singhal,12 A. M. Sintes,66 B. J. J. Slagmolen,20 J. R. Smith,22 M. R. Smith,1 N. D. Smith,1 R. J. E. Smith,1 E. J. Son,125 B. Sorazu,36 F. Sorrentino,47 T. Souradeep,14 A. K. Srivastava,95 A. Staley,39 M. Steinke,8 J. Steinlechner,36 S. Steinlechner,36 D. Steinmeyer,8,17 B. C. Stephens,16 S. P. Stevenson,45 R. Stone,83 K. A. Strain,36 N. Straniero,65 G. Stratta,57,58 N. A. Strauss,78 S. Strigin,49 R. Sturani,121 A. L. Stuver,6 T. Z. Summerscales,128 L. Sun,85 P. J. Sutton,91 B. L. Swinkels,34 M. J. Szczepańczyk,97 M. Tacca,30 D. Talukder,59 D. B. Tanner,5 M. Tápai,96 S. P. Tarabrin,8 A. Taracchini,29 R. Taylor,1 T. Theeg,8 M. P. Thirugnanasambandam,1 E. G. Thomas,45 M. Thomas,6 P. Thomas,37 K. A. Thorne,6 E. Thrane,114 S. Tiwari,12 V. Tiwari,91 K. V. Tokmakov,107 C. Tomlinson,86 M. Tonelli,18,19 C. I. Torrie,1 D. Töyrä,45 F. Travasso,32,33 G. Traylor,6 D. Trifirò,21 M. C. Tringali,89,90 L. Trozzo,129,19 M. Tse,10 M. Turconi,53 D. Tuyenbayev,83 D. Ugolini,130 C. S. Unnikrishnan,99 A. L. Urban,16 S. A. Usman,35 H. Vahlbruch,17 G. Vajente,1 G. Valdes,83 M. Vallisneri,76 N. van Bakel,9 M. van Beuzekom,9 J. F. J. van den Brand,61,9 C. Van Den Broeck,9 D. C. Vander-Hyde,35,22 L. van der Schaaf,9 J. V. van Heijningen,9 A. A. van Veggel,36 M. Vardaro,41,42 S. Vass,1 M. Vasúth,38 R. Vaulin,10 A. Vecchio,45 G. Vedovato,42 J. Veitch,45 P. J. Veitch,104 K. Venkateswara,131 D. Verkindt,7 F. Vetrano,57,58 A. Viceré,57,58 S. Vinciguerra,45 D. J. Vine,50 J.-Y. Vinet,53 S. Vitale,10 T. Vo,35 H. Vocca,32,33 C. Vorvick,37 D. Voss,5 W. D. Vousden,45 S. P. Vyatchanin,49 A. R. Wade,20 L. E. Wade,132 M. Wade,132 S. J. Waldman,10 M. Walker,2 L. Wallace,1 S. Walsh,16,8,29 G. Wang,12 H. Wang,45 M. Wang,45 X. Wang,70 Y. Wang,51 H. Ward,36 R. L. Ward,20 J. Warner,37 M. Was,7 B. Weaver,37 L.-W. Wei,53 M. Weinert,8 A. J. Weinstein,1 T. Welborn,6 L. Wen,51 P. Weßels,8 T. Westphal,8 K. Wette,8 J. T. Whelan,102,8 S. E. Whitcomb,1 D. J. White,86 B. F. Whiting,5 K. Wiesner,8 C. Wilkinson,37 P. A. Willems,1 L. Williams,5 R. D. Williams,1 A. R. Williamson,91 J. L. Willis,133 B. Willke,17,8 M. H. Wimmer,8,17 L. Winkelmann,8 W. Winkler,8 C. C. Wipf,1 A. G. Wiseman,16 H. Wittel,8,17 G. Woan,36 J. Worden,37 J. L. Wright,36 G. Wu,6 J. Yablon,82 I. Yakushin,6 W. Yam,10 H. Yamamoto,1 C. C. Yancey,62 M. J. Yap,20 H. Yu,10 M. Yvert,7 A. Zadrożny,112 L. Zangrando,42 M. Zanolin,97 J.-P. Zendri,42 M. Zevin,82 F. Zhang,10 L. Zhang,1 M. Zhang,120 Y. Zhang,102 C. Zhao,51 M. Zhou,82 Z. Zhou,82 X. J. Zhu,51 M. E. Zucker,1,10 S. E. Zuraw,103 J. Zweizig,1

(LIGO Scientific Collaboration and Virgo Collaboration)

The following contributors to the paper passed away before they could be recognized with the Special Breakthrough Prize:

J. Heefner1
R. Schilling8
C. V. Torres83

1 LIGO, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

2 Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA

3 Università di Salerno, Fisciano, I-84084 Salerno, Italy

4 INFN, Sezione di Napoli, Complesso Universitario di Monte S. Angelo, I-80126 Napoli, Italy

5 University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA

6 LIGO Livingston Observatory, Livingston, Louisiana 70754, USA

7 Laboratoire d’Annecy-le-Vieux de Physique des Particules (LAPP), Université Savoie Mont Blanc, CNRS/IN2P3, F-74941 Annecy-le-Vieux, France

8 Albert-Einstein-Institut, Max-Planck-Institut für Gravitationsphysik, D-30167 Hannover, Germany

9 Nikhef, Science Park, 1098 XG Amsterdam, Netherlands

10 LIGO, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

11 Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, 12227-010 São José dos Campos, São Paulo, Brazil

12 INFN, Gran Sasso Science Institute, I-67100 L’Aquila, Italy

13 INFN, Sezione di Roma Tor Vergata, I-00133 Roma, Italy

14 Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune 411007, India

15 International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore 560012, India

16 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201, USA

17 Leibniz Universität Hannover, D-30167 Hannover, Germany

18 Università di Pisa, I-56127 Pisa, Italy

19 INFN, Sezione di Pisa, I-56127 Pisa, Italy

20 Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200, Australia

21 The University of Mississippi, University, Mississippi 38677, USA

22 California State University Fullerton, Fullerton, California 92831, USA

23 LAL, Université Paris-Sud, CNRS/IN2P3, Université Paris-Saclay, Orsay, France

24 Chennai Mathematical Institute, Chennai, India 603103

25 Università di Roma Tor Vergata, I-00133 Roma, Italy

26 University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, United Kingdom

27 Universität Hamburg, D-22761 Hamburg, Germany

28 INFN, Sezione di Roma, I-00185 Roma, Italy

29 Albert-Einstein-Institut, Max-Planck-Institut für Gravitationsphysik, D-14476 Potsdam-Golm, Germany

30 APC, AstroParticule et Cosmologie, Université Paris Diderot, CNRS/IN2P3, CEA/Irfu, Observatoire de Paris, Sorbonne Paris Cité, F-75205 Paris Cedex 13, France

31 Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana 59717, USA

32 Università di Perugia, I-06123 Perugia, Italy

33 INFN, Sezione di Perugia, I-06123 Perugia, Italy

34 European Gravitational Observatory (EGO), I-56021 Cascina, Pisa, Italy

35 Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York 13244, USA

36 SUPA, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, United Kingdom

37 LIGO Hanford Observatory, Richland, Washington 99352, USA

38 Wigner RCP, RMKI, H-1121 Budapest, Konkoly Thege Miklós út 29-33, Hungary

39 Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA

40 Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

41 Università di Padova, Dipartimento di Fisica e Astronomia, I-35131 Padova, Italy

42 INFN, Sezione di Padova, I-35131 Padova, Italy

43 CAMK-PAN, 00-716 Warsaw, Poland

44 Astronomical Observatory Warsaw University, 00-478 Warsaw, Poland

45 University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, United Kingdom

46 Università degli Studi di Genova, I-16146 Genova, Italy

47 INFN, Sezione di Genova, I-16146 Genova, Italy

48 RRCAT, Indore MP 452013, India

49 Faculty of Physics, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow 119991, Russia

50 SUPA, University of the West of Scotland, Paisley PA1 2BE, United Kingdom

51 University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia

52 Department of Astrophysics/IMAPP, Radboud University Nijmegen, P.O. Box 9010, 6500 GL Nijmegen, Netherlands

53 Artemis, Université Côte d’Azur, CNRS, Observatoire Côte d’Azur, CS 34229, Nice cedex 4, France

54 MTA Eötvös University, “Lendulet” Astrophysics Research Group, Budapest 1117, Hungary

55 Institut de Physique de Rennes, CNRS, Université de Rennes 1, F-35042 Rennes, France

56 Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99164, USA

57 Università degli Studi di Urbino “Carlo Bo,” I-61029 Urbino, Italy

58 INFN, Sezione di Firenze, I-50019 Sesto Fiorentino, Firenze, Italy

59 University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403, USA

60 Laboratoire Kastler Brossel, UPMC-Sorbonne Universités, CNRS, ENS-PSL Research University, Collège de France, F-75005 Paris, France

61 VU University Amsterdam, 1081 HV Amsterdam, Netherlands

62 University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA

63 Center for Relativistic Astrophysics and School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332, USA

64 Institut Lumière Matière, Université de Lyon, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, UMR CNRS 5306, 69622 Villeurbanne, France

65 Laboratoire des Matériaux Avancés (LMA), IN2P3/CNRS, Université de Lyon, F-69622 Villeurbanne, Lyon, France

66 Universitat de les Illes Balears, IAC3—IEEC, E-07122 Palma de Mallorca, Spain

67 Università di Napoli “Federico II,” Complesso Universitario di Monte S. Angelo, I-80126 Napoli, Italy

68 NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA

69 Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3H8, Canada

70 Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

71 Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas 79409, USA

72 The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA

73 National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu City, 30013 Taiwan, Republic of China

74 Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales 2678, Australia

75 University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

76 Caltech CaRT, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

77 Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information, Daejeon 305-806, Korea

78 Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota 55057, USA

79 Università di Roma “La Sapienza,” I-00185 Roma, Italy

80 University of Brussels, Brussels 1050, Belgium

81 Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California 94928, USA

82 Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

83 The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville, Texas 78520, USA

84 University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA

85 The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia

86 The University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, United Kingdom

87 University of Sannio at Benevento, I-82100 Benevento, Italy and INFN, Sezione di Napoli, I-80100 Napoli, Italy

88 Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey 07043, USA

89 Università di Trento, Dipartimento di Fisica, I-38123 Povo, Trento, Italy

90 INFN, Trento Institute for Fundamental Physics and Applications, I-38123 Povo, Trento, Italy

91 Cardiff University, Cardiff CF24 3AA, United Kingdom

92 National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, 2-21-1 Osawa, Mitaka, Tokyo 181-8588, Japan

93 School of Mathematics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3FD, United Kingdom

94 Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar Ahmedabad Gujarat 382424, India

95 Institute for Plasma Research, Bhat, Gandhinagar 382428, India

96 University of Szeged, Dóm tér 9, Szeged 6720, Hungary

97 Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Arizona 86301, USA

98 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA

99 Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai 400005, India

100 Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, HSIC, Chilton, Didcot, Oxon OX11 0QX, United Kingdom

101 American University, Washington, D.C. 20016, USA

102 Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York 14623, USA

103 University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003, USA

104 University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia 5005, Australia

105 West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia 26506, USA

106 University of Biał ystok, 15-424 Biał ystok, Poland

107 SUPA, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow G1 1XQ, United Kingdom

108 IISER-TVM, CET Campus, Trivandrum Kerala 695016, India

109 Institute of Applied Physics, Nizhny Novgorod, 603950, Russia

110 Pusan National University, Busan 609-735, Korea

111 Hanyang University, Seoul 133-791, Korea

112 NCBJ, 05-400 Świerk-Otwock, Poland

113 IM-PAN, 00-956 Warsaw, Poland

114 Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia

115 Seoul National University, Seoul 151-742, Korea

116 University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama 35899, USA

117 ESPCI, CNRS, F-75005 Paris, France

118 Università di Camerino, Dipartimento di Fisica, I-62032 Camerino, Italy

119 Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70813, USA

120 College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia 23187, USA

121 Instituto de Física Teórica, University Estadual Paulista/ICTP South American Institute for Fundamental Research, São Paulo SP 01140-070, Brazil

122 University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1TN, United Kingdom

123 IISER-Kolkata, Mohanpur, West Bengal 741252, India

124 Whitman College, 345 Boyer Avenue, Walla Walla, Washington 99362 USA

125 National Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Daejeon 305-390, Korea

126 Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York 14456, USA

127 Janusz Gil Institute of Astronomy, University of Zielona Góra, 65-265 Zielona Góra, Poland

128 Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan 49104, USA

129 Università di Siena, I-53100 Siena, Italy

130 Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas 78212, USA

131 University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

132 Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio 43022, USA

133 Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas 79699, USA