Rainer Weiss

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Rainer Weiss
Rainer Weiss after a conference in Almería.jpg
Weiss in June 2018
Born (1932-09-29) September 29, 1932 (age 86)
EducationMassachusetts Institute of Technology (BS, MS, PhD)
Known forPioneering laser interferometric gravitational wave observation
AwardsEinstein Prize (2007)
Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (2016)
Gruber Prize in Cosmology (2016)
Shaw Prize (2016)
Kavli Prize (2016)
Harvey Prize (2016)
Princess of Asturias Award (2017)
Nobel Prize in Physics (2017)
Scientific career
Laser physics
Experimental gravitation
Cosmic background measurements
InstitutionsMassachusetts Institute of Technology
ThesisStark Effect and Hyperfine Structure of Hydrogen Fluoride (1962)
Doctoral advisorJerrold R. Zacharias
Doctoral studentsNergis Mavalvala
Other notable studentsBruce Allen
InfluencesRobert H. Dicke
Rainer Weiss during Nobel Prize press conference in Stockholm, December 2017

Rainer "Rai" Weiss (/ws/; German: [vaɪs]; born September 29, 1932) is an American physicist, known for his contributions in gravitational physics and astrophysics. He is a professor of physics emeritus at MIT and an adjunct professor at LSU. He is best known for inventing the laser interferometric technique which is the basic operation of LIGO. He was Chair of the COBE Science Working Group.[1][2][3]

He is a member of Fermilab Holometer experiment, which uses a 40m laser interferometer to measure properties of space and time at quantum scale and provide Planck-precision tests of quantum holographic fluctuation.[4][5]

In 2017, Weiss was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, along with Kip Thorne and Barry Barish, "for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves".[6][7][8][9]

Early life and education[edit]

Rainer Weiss was born in Berlin, Germany, the son of Gertrude Loesner and Frederick A. Weiss.[10][11] His father, a physician, neurologist, and psychoanalyst, was forced out of Germany by Nazis because he was Jewish and an active member of the Communist Party. His mother, a Christian, was an actress.[12] The family fled first to Prague, but Germany's occupation of Czechoslovakia after the 1938 Munich Agreement caused them to flee; the philanthropic Stix family of St. Louis enabled them to obtain visas to enter the United States.[13] Weiss spent his youth in New York City, where he attended Columbia Grammar School. He studied at MIT and after dropping out in his junior year[14] returned to receive his S.B. degree in 1955 and Ph.D. degree in 1962 from Jerrold Zacharias.[15] He taught at Tufts University in 1960–62, was a postdoctoral scholar at Princeton University from 1962 to 1964, then joined the faculty at MIT in 1964.[10]


Weiss brought two fields of fundamental physics research from birth to maturity: characterization of the cosmic background radiation,[3] and interferometric gravitational wave observation.

He made pioneering measurements of the spectrum of the cosmic microwave background radiation, and then was co-founder and science advisor of the NASA COBE (microwave background) satellite.[1] Weiss also invented the interferometric gravitational wave detector, and co-founded the NSF LIGO (gravitational-wave detection) project.[16] Both of these efforts couple challenges in instrument science with physics important to the understanding of the Universe.[17]

In February 2016, he was one of the four scientists of LIGO/Virgo collaboration presenting at the press conference for the announcement that the first direct gravitational wave observation had been made in September 2015.[18][19][20][21][a]

Honors and awards[edit]

Rainer Weiss has been recognized by numerous awards including:

Selected publications[edit]

  • R. Weiss, H.H. Stroke, V. Jaccarino and D.S. Edmonds (1957). "Magnetic Moments and Hyperfine Structures Anomalies of Cs133, Cs135 and Cs137". Phys. Rev. 105 (2): 590–603. Bibcode:1957PhRv..105..590S. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.105.590.
  • R. Weiss (1961). "Molecular Beam Electron Bombardment Detector". Rev. Sci. Instrum. 32 (4): 397–401. Bibcode:1961RScI...32..397W. doi:10.1063/1.1717386.
  • R. Weiss & L. Grodzins (1962). "A Search for a Frequency Shift of 14.4 keV Photons on Traversing Radiation Fields". Physics Letters. 1 (8): 342. Bibcode:1962PhL.....1..342W. doi:10.1016/0031-9163(62)90420-1.
  • Weiss, Rainer (1963). "Stark Effect and Hyperfine Structure of Hydrogen Fluoride". Phys. Rev. 131 (2): 659–665. Bibcode:1963PhRv..131..659W. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.131.659.
  • R. Weiss & B. Block (1965). "A Gravimeter to Monitor the OSO Dilational Model of the Earth". J. Geophys. Res. 70 (22): 5615. Bibcode:1965JGR....70.5615W. doi:10.1029/JZ070i022p05615.
  • R. Weiss & G. Blum (1967). "Experimental Test of the Freundlich Red-Shift Hypothesis". Phys. Rev. 155 (5): 1412. Bibcode:1967PhRv..155.1412B. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.155.1412.
  • R. Weiss (1967). "Electric and Magnetic Field Probes". Am. J. Phys. 35 (11): 1047–1048. Bibcode:1967AmJPh..35.1047W. doi:10.1119/1.1973723.
  • R.Weiss and S. Ezekiel (1968). "Laser-Induced Fluorescence in a Molecular Beam of Iodine". Phys. Rev. Lett. 20 (3): 91–93. Bibcode:1968PhRvL..20...91E. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.20.91.
  • R. Weiss & D. Muehlner (1970). "A Measurement of the Isotropic Background Radiation in the Far Infrared". Phys. Rev. Lett. 24 (13): 742. Bibcode:1970PhRvL..24..742M. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.24.742.
  • R. Weiss (1972). "Electromagnetically Coupled Broadband Gravitational Antenna" (PDF). Quarterly Progress Report, Research Laboratory of Electronics, MIT. 105: 54.
  • R. Weiss & D. Muehlner (1973). "Balloon Measurements of the Far Infrared Background Radiation". Phys. Rev. D. 7 (2): 326. Bibcode:1973PhRvD...7..326M. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.7.326.
  • R. Weiss & D. Muehlner (1973). "Further Measurements of the Submillimeter Background at Balloon Altitude". Phys. Rev. Lett. 30 (16): 757. Bibcode:1973PhRvL..30..757M. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.30.757.
  • R. Weiss & D.K. Owens (1974). "Measurements of the Phase Fluctuations on a He-Ne Zeeman Laser". Rev. Sci. Instrum. 45 (9): 1060. Bibcode:1974RScI...45.1060O. doi:10.1063/1.1686809.
  • R. Weiss, D.K. Owens & D. Muehlner (1979). "A Large Beam Sky Survey at Millimeter and Submillimeter Wavelengths Made from Balloon Altitudes". Astrophysical Journal. 231: 702. Bibcode:1979ApJ...231..702O. doi:10.1086/157235.
  • R. Weiss, P.M. Downey, F.J. Bachner, J.P. Donnelly, W.T. Lindley, R.W. Mountain and D.J. Silversmith (1980). "Monolithic Silicon Bolometers". Journal of Infrared and Millimeter Waves. 1.
  • R. Weiss (1980). "Measurements of the Cosmic Background Radiation". Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics. 18: 489–535. Bibcode:1980ARA&A..18..489W. doi:10.1146/annurev.aa.18.090180.002421.
  • R. Weiss (1980). "The COBE Project". Physica Scripta. 21 (5): 670. Bibcode:1980PhyS...21..670W. doi:10.1088/0031-8949/21/5/016.
  • R. Weiss, S.S. Meyer & A.D. Jeffries (1983). "A Search for the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich Effect at Millimeter Wavelengths". Astrophys. J. Lett. 271: L1. Bibcode:1983ApJ...271L...1M. doi:10.1086/184080.
  • R. Weiss, M. Halpern, R. Benford, S. Meyer and D. Muehlner (1988). "Measurements of the Anisotropy of the Cosmic Background Radiation and Diffuse Galactic Emission at Millimeter and Submillimeter Wavelengths". Astrophys. J. 332: 596. Bibcode:1988ApJ...332..596H. doi:10.1086/166679.
  • R. Weiss, J.C. Mather, E.S. Cheng, R.E. Eplee Jr., R.B. Isaacman, S.S. Meyer, R.A. Shafer, E.L. Wright, C.L. Bennett, N.W. Boggess, E. Dwek, S. Gulkis, M.G. Hauser, M. Janssen, T. Kelsall, P.M. Lubin, S.H. Moseley Jr., T.L. Murdock, R.F. Silverberg, G.F. Smoot and D.T. Wilkinson (1990). "A Preliminary Measurement of the Cosmic Microwave Background Spectrum by the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) Satellite". Astrophys. J. 354: L37. Bibcode:1990ApJ...354L..37M. doi:10.1086/185717.
  • R. Weiss, G. Smoot, C. Bennett, R. Weber, J. Maruschak, R. Ratliff, M. Janssen, J. Chitwood, L. Hilliard, M. Lecha, R. Mills, R. Patschke, C. Richards, C. Backus, J. Mather, M. Hauser, D. Wilkenson, S. Gulkis, N. Boggess, E. Cheng, T. Kelsall, P. Lubin, S. Meyer, H. Moseley, T. Murdock, R. Shafer, R. Silverberg and E. Wright (1990). "COBE Differential Microwave Radiometers: Instrument Design and Implementation". Astrophys. J. 360: 685. Bibcode:1990ApJ...360..685S. doi:10.1086/169154.
  • R. Weiss (1990). "Interferometric Gravitational Wave Detectors". In N. Ashby; D. Bartlett; W. Wyss. Proceedings of the Twelfth International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation. Cambridge University Press. p. 331.
  • R. Weiss, D. Shoemaker, P. Fritschel, J. Glaime and N. Christensen (1991). "Prototype Michelson Interferometer with Fabry-Perot Cavities". Applied Optics. 30 (22): 3133–8. Bibcode:1991ApOpt..30.3133S. doi:10.1364/AO.30.003133. PMID 20706365.


  1. ^ Other physicists presenting were Gabriela González, David Reitze, Kip Thorne, and France A. Córdova from the NSF.


  1. ^ a b Lars Brink (June 2, 2014). Nobel Lectures in Physics (2006–2010). World Scientific. pp. 25–. ISBN 978-981-4612-70-8.
  2. ^ a b "NASA and COBE Scientists Win Top Cosmology Prize". NASA. 2006. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Weiss, Rainer (1980). "Measurements of the Cosmic Background Radiation". Annu. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 18: 489–535. Bibcode:1980ARA&A..18..489W. doi:10.1146/annurev.aa.18.090180.002421.
  4. ^ Emily Tapp (6 October 2017). "Why we built the Holometer". IOP, Classical and Quantum Gravity journal. Retrieved 22 October 2017.
  5. ^ Aaron Chou; et al. (2017). "The Holometer: an instrument to probe Planckian quantum geometry". Class. Quantum Grav. 34 (6): 065005. arXiv:1611.08265. Bibcode:2017CQGra..34f5005C. doi:10.1088/1361-6382/aa5e5c.
  6. ^ a b "The Nobel Prize in Physics 2017". The Nobel Foundation. October 3, 2017. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  7. ^ Rincon, Paul; Amos, Jonathan (October 3, 2017). "Einstein's waves win Nobel Prize". BBC News. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  8. ^ Overbye, Dennis (October 3, 2017). "2017 Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded to LIGO Black Hole Researchers". The New York Times. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  9. ^ Kaiser, David (October 3, 2017). "Learning from Gravitational Waves". The New York Times. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Weiss CV at mit.edu
  11. ^ "MIT physicist Rainer Weiss shares Nobel Prize in physics". MIT News. October 3, 2017.
  12. ^ "Rainer Weiss Biography" (PDF). kavliprize.org. Retrieved 7 July 2018.
  13. ^ Shirley K. Cohen (10 May 2000). "Interview with Rainer Weiss" (PDF). Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology. Retrieved 22 October 2017.
  14. ^ Meet the College Dropout who Invented the Gravitational Wave Detector Adrian Cho Science 4 August 2016
  15. ^ Weiss, Rainer (1962). Stark effect and hyperfine structure of hydrogen fluoride (Ph.D.). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. OCLC 33374441 – via ProQuest. (Subscription required (help)).
  16. ^ Mervis, Jeffrey. "Got gravitational waves? Thank NSF's approach to building big facilities". Science Magazine. ISSN 1095-9203. Retrieved 2017-11-14.
  17. ^ David Shoemaker (2012). "The Evolution of Advanced LIGO" (PDF). LIGO Magazine (1).
  18. ^ Twilley, Nicola. "Gravitational Waves Exist: The Inside Story of How Scientists Finally Found Them". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2016-02-11.
  19. ^ Abbott, B.P.; et al. (2016). "Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger". Phys. Rev. Lett. 116 (6): 061102. arXiv:1602.03837. Bibcode:2016PhRvL.116f1102A. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.116.061102. PMID 26918975.
  20. ^ Naeye, Robert (February 11, 2016). "Gravitational Wave Detection Heralds New Era of Science". Sky and Telescope. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  21. ^ Castelvecchi, Davide; Witze, Alexandra (February 11, 2016). "Einstein's gravitational waves found at last". Nature News. doi:10.1038/nature.2016.19361. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  22. ^ "Prize Recipient". aps.org.
  23. ^ "Breakthrough Prize – Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics Awarded For Detection of Gravitational Waves 100 Years After Albert Einstein Predicted Their Existence". breakthroughprize.org. San Francisco. May 2, 2016. Retrieved 2017-10-03.
  24. ^ "2016 Gruber Cosmology Prize Press Release". gruber.yale.edu. The Gruber Foundation. May 4, 2016. Retrieved 2017-10-03.
  25. ^ Shaw Prize 2016
  26. ^ Kavli Prize 2016
  27. ^ Harvey Prize 2016
  28. ^ "Meet the Team of Scientists Who Discovered Gravitational Waves". Smithsonian Magazine.
  29. ^ "The Willis E. Lamb Award for Laser Science and Quantum Optics". Retrieved March 17, 2017.
  30. ^ Princess of Asturias Award 2017
  31. ^ "Group 2: Astronomy, Physics and Geophysics". Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Archived from the original on December 22, 2017. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  32. ^ "Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation". American Astronomical Society.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cho, A. (August 5, 2016). "The storyteller". Science. 353 (6299): 532–537. doi:10.1126/science.353.6299.532. PMID 27493164.
  • Mather, J.; Boslough, J. (2008). The very first light: The true inside story of the scientific journey back to the dawn of the universe. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-01576-4.
  • Bartusiak, M. (2000). Einstein's unfinished symphony: Listening to the sounds of space-time. Joseph Henry Press. ISBN 978-0-425-18620-6.

External links[edit]