The Detection of Gravitational Waves
416 pp., 6 x 9 in, 39 b&w illus.
- Published: March 2, 2018
- Published: January 27, 2017
- Published: January 20, 2017
A fascinating account, written in real time, of the unfolding of a scientific discovery: the first detection of gravitational waves.
Scientists have been trying to confirm the existence of gravitational waves for fifty years. Then, in September 2015, came a “very interesting event” (as the cautious subject line in a physicist's email read) that proved to be the first detection of gravitational waves. In Gravity's Kiss, Harry Collins—who has been watching the science of gravitational wave detection for forty-three of those fifty years and has written three previous books about it—offers a final, fascinating account, written in real time, of the unfolding of one of the most remarkable scientific discoveries ever made.
Predicted by Einstein in his theory of general relativity, gravitational waves carry energy from the collision or explosion of stars. Dying binary stars, for example, rotate faster and faster around each other until they merge, emitting a burst of gravitational waves. It is only with the development of extraordinarily sensitive, highly sophisticated detectors that physicists can now confirm Einstein's prediction. This is the story that Collins tells.
Collins, a sociologist of science who has been embedded in the gravitational wave community since 1972, traces the detection, the analysis, the confirmation, and the public presentation and the reception of the discovery—from the first email to the final published paper and the response of professionals and the public. Collins shows that science today is collaborative, far-flung (with the physical location of the participants hardly mattering), and sometimes secretive, but still one of the few institutions that has integrity built into it.
The electrifying excitement of frontline science, in one of its great success moments, reported with wit, sincerity, and details. Thrilling like a spy story.
Carlo Rovelli, Professor of Physics, Aix-Marseille University; author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and Reality Is Not What It Seems
Harry Collins gives us an unprecedented look at how science is practiced in large collaborations and the inside view of a major discovery, the observation of gravity waves by the LIGO collaboration. It is a fascinating and readily understandable account yet with enough technical detail to satisfy a scientist. This is a great story and I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in science and its practice.
Allan Franklin, Professor of Physics, University of Colorado; winner of the 2016 Pais Prize for History of Physics
Harry Collins queued for nearly half a century for his front-row seat at a theater nobody was sure existed. He was there on opening night, as the curtain went up to show us a new science. We sit there with him, this most enlightened guide, to witness this most extraordinary human achievement.
Peter Bernard Ladkin, Professor of Computer Networks and Distributed Systems, Bielefeld University
...a gripping day-by-day account of how it became almost universally accepted that gravitational waves had finally been detected.
Times Higher Education
It's both a topical must-read, and a future classic of the genre.
Sky at Night
The book is certainly very important and unique […] as a firsthand contemporary history of a scientific discovery