Rainer Weiss during Nobel Prize press conference in Stockholm, December 2017
Rainer "Rai" Weiss (/waɪs/; German: [vaɪs]; born September 29, 1932) is an American physicist, known for his contributions in gravitational physics and astrophysics. He is a professor of physics emeritus at MIT and an adjunct professor at LSU. He is best known for inventing the laser interferometric technique which is the basic operation of LIGO. He was Chair of the COBE Science Working Group.
Weiss brought two fields of fundamental physics research from birth to maturity: characterization of the cosmic background radiation, and interferometric gravitational wave observation.
He made pioneering measurements of the spectrum of the cosmic microwave background radiation, with a balloon experiment that made the definitive measurement showing that the microwave background exhibited the thermal spectrum characteristic of the remnant radiation from the Big Bang. He later became co-founder and science advisor of the NASACosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, which made detailed mapping of the radiation.
Weiss also pioneered the concept of using lasers for an interferometric gravitational wave detector, suggesting that the path length required for such a detector would necessitate kilometer-scale arms. He built a prototype in the 1970s, following earlier work by Robert L. Forward. He co-founded the NSF LIGO (gravitational-wave detection) project, which was based on his report "A study of a long Baseline Gravitational Wave Antenna System".
Both of these efforts couple challenges in instrument science with physics important to the understanding of the Universe.
R. Weiss, D.K. Owens & D. Muehlner (1979). "A Large Beam Sky Survey at Millimeter and Submillimeter Wavelengths Made from Balloon Altitudes". Astrophysical Journal. 231: 702. Bibcode:1979ApJ...231..702O. doi:10.1086/157235.
R. Weiss, P.M. Downey, F.J. Bachner, J.P. Donnelly, W.T. Lindley, R.W. Mountain and D.J. Silversmith (1980). "Monolithic Silicon Bolometers". Journal of Infrared and Millimeter Waves. 1.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
R. Weiss, M. Halpern, R. Benford, S. Meyer and D. Muehlner (1988). "Measurements of the Anisotropy of the Cosmic Background Radiation and Diffuse Galactic Emission at Millimeter and Submillimeter Wavelengths". Astrophys. J. 332: 596. Bibcode:1988ApJ...332..596H. doi:10.1086/166679.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
R. Weiss, J.C. Mather, E.S. Cheng, R.E. Eplee Jr., R.B. Isaacman, S.S. Meyer, R.A. Shafer, E.L. Wright, C.L. Bennett, N.W. Boggess, E. Dwek, S. Gulkis, M.G. Hauser, M. Janssen, T. Kelsall, P.M. Lubin, S.H. Moseley Jr., T.L. Murdock, R.F. Silverberg, G.F. Smoot and D.T. Wilkinson (1990). "A Preliminary Measurement of the Cosmic Microwave Background Spectrum by the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) Satellite". Astrophys. J. 354: L37. Bibcode:1990ApJ...354L..37M. doi:10.1086/185717.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
R. Weiss, G. Smoot, C. Bennett, R. Weber, J. Maruschak, R. Ratliff, M. Janssen, J. Chitwood, L. Hilliard, M. Lecha, R. Mills, R. Patschke, C. Richards, C. Backus, J. Mather, M. Hauser, D. Wilkenson, S. Gulkis, N. Boggess, E. Cheng, T. Kelsall, P. Lubin, S. Meyer, H. Moseley, T. Murdock, R. Shafer, R. Silverberg and E. Wright (1990). "COBE Differential Microwave Radiometers: Instrument Design and Implementation". Astrophys. J. 360: 685. Bibcode:1990ApJ...360..685S. doi:10.1086/169154.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
R. Weiss (1990). "Interferometric Gravitational Wave Detectors". In N. Ashby; D. Bartlett; W. Wyss (eds.). Proceedings of the Twelfth International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation. Cambridge University Press. p. 331.