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Probing the Universe with LIGO: A Nobel Prize Winning Project

presented by Dr. Rainer Weiss, 2017 Nobel Laureate

6:00 PM Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Chancellors Hall, Stony Brook University Southampton Campus
239 Montauk Highway, Southampton NY 11968


Montauk Observatory, along with co-sponsors Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory, are honored to present Dr. Rainer Weiss, who won a 2017 Nobel Prize for his work on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Dr. Weiss, a Professor Emeritus of Physics at MIT, will discuss his interesting (and sometimes amusing) history, as well as LIGO and its revolutionary impact on our understanding of the Universe. The lecture will be followed by a reception.

Cost: Free

Reservations Required. Call Laura 631-632-6873 or email


Imagine a pond. Now picture a boat sailing across the pond; the movement of that boat will disturb the water, causing ripples that spread outward, away from the boat. As the size of the boat increases and as its speed increases, the more the water will be disturbed and result in larger ripples or waves. The movement of the boat will also affect other objects in the water, much like the gravitational pull of one celestial object impacts the objects around it. If you think of the Universe as that pond and celestial objects like stars as the boats, you'll have a rudimentary understanding of gravitational waves: As the stars move, they cause gravitational ripples or waves, thus disturbing the pond, that is, distorting the space-time fabric that exists around them.

As part of his theory of general relativity, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, but he assumed that they would be impossible to detect from earth and he was right—right until September 14, 2015 when the Laser Interferometric Gravitational Observatory (LIGO) detected the first gravitational waves (they were generated by two black holes that collided; it took 1.3 billion light years for the waves to arrive at the LIGO detector).

The data collected by LIGO allows us to observe the Universe in a unique way and, thus, acquire a better understanding of it and of such events as exploding stars, the collision of black holes, and even the birth of the Universe. Without exaggeration, LIGO is revolutionizing the fields of physics and astrophysics.

The initial design for the LIGO detector was conceived 50 years ago by Dr. Weiss and first funded in 1990. Over a thousand researchers from twenty countries collaborated on the LIGO project. In 2017, the LIGO team won the Nobel Prize in Physics: half the award went to Weiss, while the other half was shared by Kip Thorne and Barry Barish of CalTech for their creation of the equipment and its detection of gravitational waves.

Montauk Observatory, Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory are honored to host this presentation by Dr. Weiss, who will discuss his interesting (and sometimes amusing) history, as well as the history of the LIGO project, of gravitational waves and their significance to our understanding of the Universe, and his vision for the future of gravitational wave astronomy.

Dr. Rainer Weiss, is Professor Emeritus of Physics at MIT. His long, distinguished career was foreshadowed by his interest in electronics and radio technology when he was a boy in New York City. He was a leading researcher in cosmic microwave background radiation at MIT and oversaw a scientific working group for NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, the measurements of which helped support the Big Bang Theory.

Montauk Observatory is a 501(c)(3) NYS nonprofit that offers free quality science programs, lectures and public/private star parties in the Hamptons. It will soon have available a free robotic observatory, located in East Hampton, with the largest research-grade telescope on Long Island; students, educators, researchers and the general public will be able to use the facilities for their projects and to explore the night sky via the internet.

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