President's Medals for gravitational wave researchers

Published: 1 November 2016

UofG physicists who played a key role in the historic first detection of gravitational waves have received a prestigious award. VIDEO

University of Glasgow physicists who played a key role in the historic first detection of gravitational waves have received a prestigious award for their achievements.

A total of 13 scientists associated with the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy received the President’s Medal from the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) at an event held at the Society’s headquarters yesterday (Monday 31 October).

Professors Sheila Rowan, James Hough and Norna Robertson discuss the RSE President's Medal

The award, presented by the RSE President and University of Glasgow alumna Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, recognises outstanding achievements from scientists working in Scotland. The awards were presented after a public lecture from Professor Martin Hendry, Head of the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, on the science of gravitational waves – ripples in spacetime caused by massive astronomical events such as the collision of black holes.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow’s Institute for Gravitational Research led on the conception, development, building and installation of the sensitive mirror suspensions at the heart of the US-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, which made the first direct observation of the existence of gravitational waves on September 14, 2015. University of Glasgow researchers were also involved in the analysis of the data from the first detection.

Alongside 11 researchers from the University’s Institute of Gravitational Research, the medal was also presented to Professor Norna Robertson, who is affiliated both with the University of Glasgow and the California Institute of Technology, and Professor Ronald Drever, a Glasgow graduate and researcher who, along with Professors Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss, played a key role in the conception and development of LIGO after moving to the USA in 1984.    

'Huge step forward'

Professor Sheila Rowan, one of the recipients of the medals and the director of the University’s Institute for Gravitational Research, said: “My colleagues and I are pleased and very proud to receive this honour from the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

“The first detection of gravitational waves, and with it the first direct evidence of the existence of black holes, was a huge step forward for our understanding of the cosmos. Just as excitingly, however, is that the discovery has created the new field of gravitational wave astronomy, and with it the potential for untold new discoveries about our universe. We’re very much looking forward to continuing to push the boundaries of astrophysics in the coming decades.”

Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said: “I’d like to congratulate the 13 recipients of the Royal Society of Edinburgh President’s Medal. Each of them played a vitally important role in the first detection of gravitational waves, and their contributions have helped set astronomy on an exciting new path. The University is delighted to be so closely associated with this fantastic story and the medal winners should be immensely proud of their achievements.”

The full list of President's Medal recipients and their commendations

  • Iain W Martin (University of Glasgow) For development of noise reduction techniques associated with mechanical bonding and optical coatings, essential to the sensitivity achieved by advanced LIGO 
  • Stefan Hild (University of Glasgow) For advances in the sensitivity of the interferometry for both the advanced LIGO and Virgo detectors 
  • Ik Siong Heng (University of Glasgow) For leadership of the group which, based on many years of background research, made the first real observation of a gravitational wave signal 
  • Giles Hammond (University of Glasgow) For the implementation on site of the silica fibre suspension elements essential to the low noise operation of the advanced LIGO detectors 
  • Martin A. Hendry (University of Glasgow) For contributions to the estimation of Advanced LIGO detection rates and significance, and for leading contributions to the global public outreach programme associated with the first detections 
  • Graham Woan (University of Glasgow) For his sustained leadership role in LIGO data analysis and development of Bayesian inference methods in the collaboration 
  • Gavin Newton (University of Glasgow) For earlier work on the prototype interferometer at Glasgow and contributions to the GEO 600 detector in Germany which led to techniques adopted in Advanced LIGO 
  • Harry Ward (University of Glasgow) For earlier, but essential, contributions to the prototype detectors in Glasgow and Caltech, in the areas of laser frequency, amplitude and directional stabilization 
  • Norna Robertson (California Institute of Technology and University of Glasgow) For contributions to the design and development of the suspension systems for Advanced LIGO and for leading the installation of these systems at the detector sites
  • Ken Strain (University of Glasgow) For leadership of the UK input to upgrade the LIGO detectors, leading to the detection of the signals from the black hole binary coalescence 
  • Sheila Rowan (University of Glasgow) For leading the Institute for Gravitational Research in Glasgow over the critical period of upgrading the LIGO detectors and for contributions to the development of the ultra-low noise suspensions and mirror coatings of advanced LIGO, without which the detections could not have been made 
  • Jim Hough (University of Glasgow) For 45 years of research towards the detection of gravitational waves, UK leadership of the German British GEO 600 detector development, and development of laser stabilization and mechanical isolation systems essential to the detection of gravitational waves by Advanced LIGO
  • Ronald Drever (California Institute of Technology) For early work in Glasgow on the development of aluminium bar gravitational wave detectors and their optically based successors, and for research at Caltech leading to the funding of the initial LIGO detectors


First published: 1 November 2016