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Nobel Laureate Barry Barish Appointed Stony Brook University President’s Distinguished Endowed Chair in Physics

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Distinguished Professor and physics department chair Chang-Kee Jung, Nobel Laureate Barry Barish and Executive Vice President and Provost Carl Lejuez. Photo by John Griffin.

World renowned experimental physicist and Nobel Laureate Barry Barish, PhD, will be joining Stony Brook University to serve as the inaugural President’s Distinguished Endowed Chair in Physics beginning in the fall semester of 2023.

Barish shared the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for the observation of gravitational waves with the historic Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) experiment. This research proved the ripples in the fabric of space and time that were predicted by Albert Einstein 100 years earlier. He is also the Ronald and Maxine Linde Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Barish will be teaching graduate students and serve as an advisor to the Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Distinguished Professor, Chang Kee Jung. Barish will also provide guidance on enhancing Stony Brook’s participation in gravitational astronomy research.

Barish was the inaugural featured speaker of the newly established C.N. Yang Colloquium series in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. The series honors his fellow Nobel Laureate in Physics and Stony Brook University faculty member C.N. Yang, the namesake of the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics. The title of Barish’s colloquium was “Probing the Universe with Gravitational Waves.” His appointment was announced at the colloquium.

“Stony Brook University has a profound legacy of discovery — research and innovations that expand our world, shift public perspective, and help us to better understand the cosmos. In his awe-inspiring career, Professor Barry Barish has done all three,” said Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis. “His position as the President’s Distinguished Endowed Chair in Physics is a testament to Stony Brook’s proven excellence in Physics and Astronomy, as well as to this university’s commitment to remain on the cutting edge of knowledge. We are honored to welcome Professor Barish to campus and so excited for the many students and researchers who will be able to learn from this history-making physicist.”

“This is such exciting news for Stony Brook,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Carl Lejuez. “We have a storied history in physics, starting with C.N. Yang, and continuing through the last several decades. The welcome addition of Professor Barish to our Department of Physics and Astronomy reflects Stony Brook University’s role as a leading center of research at the cutting edge of discoveries that help us understand our universe.“

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Barry Barish. Photo by John Griffin.

“Professor Barish is an exceptional physicist and what he has accomplished with the LIGO experiment is phenomenal,” said Jung, who has known Professor Barish for more than 30 years. “His work resulted in not only the discovery of gravitational waves that were predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity but also the observation of two black holes merging in real time, which opened a new field of observational astronomy based on gravitational waves. Consequently, his contributions and influence in science go beyond particle physics, reaching astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology. I am exceptionally excited about him joining Stony Brook’s faculty. This is a historic appointment for Stony Brook. He will be an inspiration to our students, postdocs, and faculty.”

“Stony Brook has long been a very special place for physics and I am excited to help celebrate that history by delivering the inaugural C.N. Yang lecture,” said Barish. “Even more, I am looking forward to  joining the physics faculty in 2023, where I will continue to pursue the forefront issues in physics.”

Barish, who will continue his affiliations with Caltech and the University of California, Riverside, shared the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics with American physicists Rainer Weiss and Kip S. Thorne. He received his bachelor’s and doctorate in physics at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1957 and 1962, respectively. He was a research fellow at Berkeley from 1962 to 1963 and then became a research fellow at Caltech. He joined the faculty at the University of California, Riverside in 2018.

Barish began his career in high-energy physics. He worked on experiments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and Fermilab, where he was among the first to observe the weak neutral current, a linchpin of the electroweak unification theories of Glashow, Salam, and Weinberg. In the 1980s he directed MACRO, an experiment that searched for exotic particles called magnetic monopoles and also studied penetrating cosmic rays, including neutrino measurements that provided important confirmatory evidence that neutrinos have mass and oscillate. He also headed a team to design an experiment for the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), a giant particle accelerator to be built in Texas, but the U.S. Congress canceled that project in 1993.

After the cancellation of the SSC, Barish became LIGO principal investigator in 1994. The National Science Foundation (NSF) in its 1992 and 1993 reviews of LIGO had expressed doubts about its feasibility and management structure. Barish instituted technical changes to LIGO’s design, such as using solid-state lasers, which were more powerful than the originally planned argon gas lasers. LIGO was run mainly as a small collaboration between Caltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Barish realized that LIGO would need permanent staff and many more scientists to help in what was an extremely technically demanding project. In 1997 he established the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), a team of hundreds of scientists from around the world. That same year Barish became LIGO director. Barish’s changes pleased the NSF, which funded LIGO at a much higher level, and were credited with doing much to make LIGO a success.

Construction began on LIGO’s two interferometers at Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, in 1994, and observations began in 2002. Although LIGO had not detected any gravity waves in its early years, Barish pushed through plans for an upgraded version, Advanced LIGO, that would. Advanced LIGO was approved by the NSF in 2004, and it was completely installed in 2014. On September 14, 2015, Advanced LIGO made the first detection of gravity waves from a pair of black holes that spiraled into each other 1.3 billion light-years away.

From 2005 to 2013 Barish was director of the Global Design Effort of the International Linear Collider (ILC), a proposed 31-kilometer- (19-mile-) long linear particle accelerator. The ILC is the highest priority future project for particle physics worldwide.

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