Scottish scientist was tipped to join Nobel prize winners

Gravitational wave detection scientist Professor Ronald Drever.
Gravitational wave detection scientist Professor Ronald Drever.
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A Scottish physicist who conducted some of the key early experimental work on the detection of gravitational waves may have joined three American colleagues who won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, had he not died earlier this year.

Professor Ron Drever, who had dementia died in Edinburgh in March this year, aged 85, less than 18 months after fellow scientists announced the detection of gravitational waves.

The historic announcement in September 2015 that ripples in the fabric of space-time had been traced to the titanic collision of two black holes was widely tipped to be a Nobel Prize winner.

Two huge L-shaped detectors in the US that together comprise Ligo (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), measured the infinitesimally small echo of the black holes crashing together and merging 1.3 billion light years away.

Not only did the discovery confirm a prediction made by Albert Einstein 100 years ago, it also opened up a new window on the universe that promised to change astronomy and physics for ever.

The three Nobel Laureates, Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish, were Ligo pioneers whose work over four decades led to gravitational waves finally being observed.

While his contribution will be long remembered, the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.

Prof Drever, who was born in Bishopton, Renfrewshire, began his scientific career at the University of Glasgow before moving to the US to work on gravitational wave detection at Caltech.

A total of 11 UK universities were involved in Ligo, and the project’s detectors are largely based on British-designed technology.

Professor Sheila Rowan, director of the University of Glasgow’s Institute for Gravitational Research, a leading British Ligo scientist, said: “We’re thrilled to hear that the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 has gone to gravitational wave detection.

“The discovery of the existence of gravitational waves, just over two years ago, has opened up a whole new way to understand the universe.

Prof Rowan added: “Some of the first steps on the road to this new field of gravitational wave astronomy were taken here in Glasgow by Professor Ron Drever and Professor Jim Hough and we’re proud of having built on that work to evolve into the Institute as we are today.”