The $1 billion taxpayer-funded LIGO project shook the science world this year with its observation of a gravitational wave, a ripple in space that was propelled by the violent merging of two huge black holes 1.3 billion years ago. The discovery ushers in a new era in astronomy that may fundamentally change our understanding of the universe. As such, LIGO is a triumph of Big Science, the commitment of tax dollars to expensive and often long-term research whose potential benefits to science and society cannot be guaranteed. Yet LIGO’s achievement comes at a time when the funding of science research is under siege. Three of LIGO’s pioneering physicists talk about the LIGO discovery, and the imperiled future of Big Science.
The Kavli Prize recognizes scientists for their seminal advances in astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience. The series, “The Big, the Small, and the Complex,” is sponsored by The Kavli Foundation and The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.