Rainer Weiss

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Rainer Weiss
Rainer Weiss - December 2006.jpg
Born (1932-09-29) September 29, 1932 (age 84)
Berlin, Germany
Citizenship United States
Fields Physics, Laser physics, Experimental Gravitation, Cosmic Background Measurements
Institutions MIT
Alma mater MIT
Thesis Stark Effect and Hyperfine Structure of Hydrogen Fluoride (1962)
Doctoral advisor Jerrold R. Zacharias
Doctoral students Shaoul Ezekiel, Nelson Christensen, Peter Fritschel, Michelle Stephens, Joseph Kovalik, Joseph Giaime, Nergis Mavalvala, Partha Saha, Brett Bochner, Brian Lantz, Julien Sylvestre, Ryan Lawrence, Rana Adhikari
Other notable students Bruce Allen
Known for Pioneering laser interferometric gravitational wave observation.
Notable awards Einstein Prize (2007) by American Physical Society
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)

Rainer "Rai" Weiss (/vs/; 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. He is best known for inventing the laser interferometric technique which is the basic operation of LIGO. Rainer Weiss was Chair of the COBE Science Working Group.[1][2][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Rainer Weiss was born on 29 September 1932 in Berlin, Germany.[4] Fleeing Nazi rule, his family moved first to Prague, in late 1932, and then to the United States, in 1938;[5] his youth was spent in New York City, where he attended Columbia Grammar School. He studied at MIT, and after dropping out in his junior year[6] returned to receive his B.S. in 1955 and Ph.D. in 1962 from Jerrold Zacharias. He taught at Tufts University in 1960–62, was a postdoctoral scholar at Princeton University from 1962–64, and then joined the faculty at MIT in 1964.[4]


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.

Both of these efforts couple challenges in instrument science with physics important to the understanding of the Universe.[7]

In February 2016, he was one of the four scientists presenting at the press conference for the announcement that the first direct gravitational wave observation had been made in September 2015.[8][9][10][11][a]

Honors and awards[edit]

Rainer Weiss has been recognized by numerous awards including:

Selected publications[edit]


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


  1. ^ a b Lars Brink (2 June 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 22 February 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. ^ a b Weiss CV at mit.edu
  5. ^ Oral Histories
  6. ^ Meet the College Dropout who Invented the Gravitational Wave Detector Adrian Cho Science 4 August 2016
  7. ^ David Shoemaker (2012). "The Evolution of Advanced LIGO" (PDF). LIGO magazine (1). 
  8. ^ Twilley, Nicola. "Gravitational Waves Exist: The Inside Story of How Scientists Finally Found Them". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2016-02-11. 
  9. ^ Abbott, B.P.; et al. (2016). "Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger". Phys. Rev. Lett. 116: 061102. PMID 26918975. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.116.061102. 
  10. ^ Naeye, Robert (11 February 2016). "Gravitational Wave Detection Heralds New Era of Science". Sky and Telescope. Retrieved 11 February 2016. 
  11. ^ Castelvecchi, Davide; Witze, Alexandra (11 February 2016). "Einstein's gravitational waves found at last". Nature News. doi:10.1038/nature.2016.19361. Retrieved 11 February 2016. 
  12. ^ "Prize Recipient". aps.org. 
  13. ^ Shaw Prize 2016
  14. ^ Kavli Prize 2016
  15. ^ Harvey Prize 2016
  16. ^ "Meet the Team of Scientists Who Discovered Gravitational Waves". Smithsonian Magazine. 
  17. ^ "The Willis E. Lamb Award for Laser Science and Quantum Optics". Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  18. ^ Princess of Asturias Award 2017

Further reading[edit]

  • Cho, A. (August 5, 2016). "The storyteller". Science. 353 (6299): 532–537. doi:10.1126/science.353.6299.532. 
  • Mather, John and John Boslough, The Very First Light: The True Inside Story of the Scientific Journey Back to the Dawn of the Universe, ISBN 978-0-465-01576-4
  • Bartusiak, M., Einstein's Unfinished Symphony: Listening to the Sounds of Space-Time, ISBN 978-0-425-18620-6

External links[edit]