Ronald Drever, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss are the primary figures responsible for the conception and design of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). LIGO’s recent direct detection of gravitational waves represents the first probe of physics in the limit of strong gravity, where massive objects moving at velocities close to that of light drive nonlinear waves in spacetime.
LIGO’s discovery ranks among the most significant ever made in astronomy, and its importance can be viewed from a number of distinct perspectives. Most simply, LIGO has provided a third strand to the means by which we can observe the universe, in addition to electromagnetic radiation or energetic particles. LIGO has thus established an entirely new branch of astronomy, allowing us to study phenomena where signals from existing astronomical messengers are entirely lacking. The impact of this new tool seems likely to be as revolutionary as, for example, the opening up of radio astronomy and the subsequent discovery of pulsars and quasars.