Born in Berlin, Rainer Weiss obtained his first degree and then in 1962 his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After serving as an assistant professor of physics at Tufts University and then a research associate at Princeton University, he returned to MIT and has been there ever since.
Weiss has contributed to a variety of scientific fields, including atomic physics, laser physics and astronomy. As part of the latter, he measured the spectrum of the very faint but ubiquitous radiation known as the cosmic microwave background, and was one of the founders of NASA’s COBE cosmic microwave mission. He co-founded LIGO with Thorne and later Drever, having laid the foundations for the project in 1972 with a paper detailing how an interferometer could distinguish gravitational waves from background noise. He has continued to contribute to nearly all elements of the experiment since then.
Weiss has been awarded the Einstein Prize and the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, and has twice won the Gruber Prize in Cosmology. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Astronomical Society and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
After receiving the 2016 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics for the direct detection of gravitational waves, he received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for this scientific achievement.