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Published in 1915, Albert Einstein's theory of General Relativity appeared to imply the existence of gravitational waves: an entirely new form of energy and radiation. However, physical reality of these implied waves was doubted by many, including Einstein himself, for well over half a century.
A 1974 discovery made in the UMass Department of Physics and Astronomy, together with more detailed follow-up measurements extending over many years, has laid all such doubts to rest. Moreover, it provided persuasive justification for funding what became a successful billion-dollar experiment to detect gravitational waves directly.
The century-long effort to better understand some of Nature's most fundamental laws makes a fascinating and entertaining story. It is a superb example of the scientific method at work -- warts, blind alleys, and all.
This lecture is intended for a general audience: no pre-requisites required, beyond an interest in Nature's truths.
Joseph H. Taylor, Jr., is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Physics, emeritus, at Princeton University. B.A. 1963, Haverford College; Ph.D. 1968, Harvard University. Since weeks after their discovery in 1968, Taylor has studied the dense, rapidly spinning, neutron-star remnants of supernovae known as pulsars. Together with his students and colleagues, he has discovered hundreds of these objects, including a number that move in orbits around other stars. Studies of these binary pulsars have provided unique astrophysical clues regarding the origin and evolution of neutron stars, as well as the first conclusive evidence of the existence of gravitational radiation, as predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity. Taylor was a research fellow at Harvard University (1968-1969) and taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (1969-1980) before joining the faculty at Princeton in 1980. At Princeton, Taylor also served as dean of the faculty from 1997 to 2003. Taylor is co-author of the book Pulsars (1977). He won a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981. Other awards include the Wolf Prize (1992), the Einstein Prize (1993), and the Nobel Prize (1993). Taylor is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also well known by his amateur radio call sign, K1JT.