One of Roger Babson’s dreams has come to reality. Gravitational radiation has been observed. Another dreamer of gravity waves was the American physicist, Joseph Weber. Weber had won the third award in the Gravity Research Foundation essay competition of 1958 and the first award in 1959 for suggesting the possibility of observing gravity waves and describing a method of detecting them. He proceeded to invent and to build a gravity wave detector. After the construction of the detector and operating it for a period of time he thought and announced that he had detected gravity waves coming to us from outer space. His announcement was greeted with widespread acclaim and great interest. Unfortunately, he had misinterpreted his observations and had, in fact, not detected them. But his failed experiment inspired a new generation of physicists to do more sensitive experiments and the “LIGO” program to detect them was started. About a half century after its start, in a dramatic ceremony held on February 11, 2016, the LIGO team announced the observation of gravity waves produced by the merging of two black holes into one. At the announcement ceremony, the LIGO founders acknowledged their debt to Weber for having inspired them.
The Gravity Research Foundation was the first institution to recognize publicly Weber’s achievement. Although it was known that he had really failed to detect gravity waves, the Foundation bestowed a distinct honor on him. George M. Rideout, the first president of the Gravity Research Foundation, awarded him the “Babson Gravity Prize”, a prize established by the Foundation to be given to an outstanding individual scientist for advancing the field of gravity studies. It was given to Weber in person by George M. Rideout at the fifth Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics in 1971. At the awards ceremony, Rideout pointed out that the prize was not being given for detecting gravity waves but for “his pioneering efforts in gravity wave detection”. This is to date the only time the prize has been awarded. Writing the essays in 1958 and in 1959 served as stimuli to Weber to encourage him to continue his work, which is the primary purpose for the Gravity Research Foundation’s annual essay competition – the Awards for Essays on Gravitation.
The following article gives reference to Joe Weber’s work being an inspiration to the LIGO gravity wave detection program