The National Academy of Sciences announced today that LSU Professor of Physics and Astronomy Gabriela González is one of the recipients of the academy's 2017 Award for Scientific Discovery. González is currently the elected spokesperson for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, Scientific Collaboration, which includes the work of 90 institutions and more than 1,000 researchers around the globe. Since its establishment in 1997, the LSC spokesperson has led the organization that established and carried out the scientific program of LIGO. González has served as the LSC spokesperson for the past almost six years. She shares the award with former LSC spokespersons David Howard Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory at California Institute of Technology and a professor of physics at the University of Florida, and Peter R. Saulson, Martin A. Pomerantz '37 Professor of Physics at Syracuse University.
Saulson served as the first elected LSC spokesperson, filling a role first established by physics pioneer and LIGO co-founder Rainer "Rai" Weiss. Reitze succeeded him. Currently González is the longest serving elected LSC spokesperson.
The efforts of the award recipients combined 19 years of leadership paid off. In 2016, the LSC announced that it had observed gravitational waves from two colliding black holes, a collision that caused ripples in spacetime that could be measured on Earth. The observation, hailed as one of the most important scientific discoveries of 2016, proved the existence and properties of gravitational waves first predicted by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity a century earlier and capped a 60-year experimental quest involving thousands of researchers from around the world. More importantly, the detection of gravitational waves passing through Earth on Sept. 14, 2015 and then again on Dec. 26, 2015, started a new field of gravitational wave astronomy with many more discoveries to come.
The National Academy of Sciences Award for Scientific Discovery is presented every two years to recognize an accomplishment or discovery in basic research, achieved within the previous five years, that is expected to have a significant impact on one or more of the following fields: astronomy, biochemistry, biophysics, chemistry, materials science or physics through the selection of recipients of the award. The awards rotate among these fields as determined by the NAS Council. To be eligible for an award, a candidate must be a scientist at a university, college or other research institution within the U.S. The award was endowed in 2014 in honor of John P. Schaefer through a gift from Research Corporation for Science Advancement, or RCSA, and the Frederick Gardner Cottrell Foundation. This award is presented with a medal, a $50,000 cash prize and $50,000 to support the recipient's research.
About Gabriela González
González was named one of the "Ten People who Mattered" by the scientific journal Nature. González received the Bruno Rossi prize from the American Astronomical Society, the Jesse W. Beams award and the Edward A. Bouchet award from the American Physical Society, and was named Scientist of the Year by Great Minds in STEM. She was also awarded the highest distinction from the Senate of Argentina, the Honorable Domingo Faustino Sarmiento award. As part of the LIGO team, she received the 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics and the 2016 Gruber Cosmology Prize.
González was born and raised in Córdoba, Argentina. She studied physics at the University of Córdoba, and came to the U.S. to pursue her Ph.D. from Syracuse University, with Peter Saulson as her advisor. She worked as a staff scientist in the LIGO group at MIT with Rai Weiss until 1997 when she joined the faculty at Penn State. In 2001, she joined the faculty at LSU, where she is a professor of physics and astronomy. As an experimental physicist, her current research involves the reduction and characterization of noise to enhance the laser interferometers' sensitivity to detect gravitational waves, calibrate the detectors and analyze data.