Founding of the Gravity Research Foundation
The Gravity Research Foundation was founded by Roger W. Babson (1875- 1967). The meeting that organized the Foundation was held on January 19, 1949. The first awards for the best essays submitted on Gravity were made on December 1, 1949.
Babson graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1898 and then went into the business world. After World War II, Babson decided to act on his desire to repay a debt he felt he owed to the laws of Newton. He had made several fortunes from investments using, as he described it, the principles he learned from Newton’s laws, his law of action and reaction as well as his law of gravitation. He had, for example, done very well by predicting the 1929 stock market crash based on the principle that there had been a strong upward action and there would now have to follow a severe downward reaction; that “What goes up will come down” and “The stock market will fall by its own weight.”
Roger Babson, himself, said that his interest in gravity started with the childhood drowning of his older sister in a river near Gloucester, Massachusetts. In an essay called “Gravity- Our Enemy No. 1,” he wrote, “She was unable to fight gravity, which came up and seized her like a dragon and brought her to the bottom.” His interest in gravity was energized when he was in Professor Swain’s Civil Engineering class at MIT. To make the class more interesting, Professor Swain used stock market charts to illustrate the application of Isaac Newton’s laws – particularly of the law of action and reaction. Babson used the exercises learned in the class to develop his method of analyzing the stock market and investing, subsequently making his fortune as a financial advisor and investor.
In 1949, the Theory of Gravity was largely a neglected area of research in the scientific community. He wanted to energize it. He consulted his close associate, George M. Rideout, then President of Babson Reports, how best to proceed to encourage the study of gravity. After some consideration, George Rideout advised him to start a Foundation and to solicit ideas by offering awards for the best ideas submitted. Roger Babson accepted the advice and the Gravity Research Foundation was formed.
Babson’s main interest was to stimulate interest in the study of Gravity. He hoped that ultimately unique and practical applications would be found. His views were reflected by the wording in the announcement of the first essay competition that said the awards were to be given for suggestions for anti-gravity devices, for partial insulators, reflectors, or absorbers of gravity, or for some substance that can be rearranged by gravity to throw off heat - although not specifically mentioned in the announcement, he was thinking of absorbing or reflecting gravity waves. The wording was unusual and the scientific community responded with a resounding lack of enthusiasm. George Rideout recognized that the wording discouraged the best scientists from submitting essays. He succeeded in convincing Babson that, if one understood completely the Theory of Gravity, one would understand its possible applications. He was able to modify the statement in the annual announcement of the essay competition so that it has been for many years, and almost from the beginning, stated that the awards are given for essays on the subject of gravitation, its theory, application, or effects.
It is amusing to speculate what Babson would think were he alive today. The theory of Gravity is one of the more lively areas of research in theoretical physics. He would recognize that he erred in not thinking boldly enough. Instead of terrestrial applications, he should have thought of cosmological; instead of static fields, he should have thought of dynamic and radiative effects. Anti-gravity he would now know was associated with dark energy, rearranging matter to produce heat he would associate with Hawking radiation from black holes. He would be doubly excited to know that gravitational radiation has been observed and that a new window for cosmological events has been opened. By any measure, he would feel vindicated in his judgment and satisfied that indeed the study of gravity was no longer being neglected, and it is likely that when gravitational radiation is observed, absorption by other galaxies will also be observed.
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