On February 3, 2021, the IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers) will host an online event to bestow its Milestone award to the gravitational-wave observatories of LIGO and Virgo. The IEEE Milestone awards recognize "technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity found in unique products, services, seminal papers and patents," according to the IEEE website. More than 160 IEEE Milestones have been awarded to a range of projects, including historical breakthroughs such as Benjamin Franklin's work on electricity and the electrical telegraph.
LIGO and Virgo are being honored for their gravitational-wave antennas, which made the first direct detections of gravitational waves, ripples in space and time that were predicted by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago.
The online event will include the dedication of bronze IEEE Milestone plaques at each observatory: the twin observatories of LIGO located at Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana; and the European Virgo detector located in Italy.
The online ceremony will also include a discussion led by Caltech's Rich Abbott, a lead LIGO engineer, that will include Caltech's Kip S. Thorne (BS '62), the Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus; Barry C. Barish, the Ronald and Maxine Linde Professor of Physics, Emeritus; and MIT's Rainer Weiss, professor of physics, emeritus. The three panelists collectively won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work on LIGO.
Representatives from Virgo and Japan's KAGRA, a partner observatory to LIGO and Virgo, will also be speaking, including Nobel Laureate Takaaki Kajita, the director of KAGRA. Other dignitaries are expected to attend the event, including the governor of Washington state, Jay Inslee, and the director of the National Science Foundation, Sethuraman Panchanathan.