Joseph Weber 1919 - 2000
Oct 10, 2000
Joseph Weber, the accomplished physicist and electrical engineer, has died at the age of 81. Weber's diverse research interests included microwave spectroscopy and quantum electronics, but he is probably best known for his investigations into gravitational waves.
In the late 1950s, Weber became intrigued by the relationship between gravitational theory and laboratory experiments. His book, General Relativity and Gravitational Radiation, was published in 1961, and his paper describing how to build a gravitational wave detector first appeared in 1969. Weber's first detector consisted of a freely suspended aluminium cylinder weighing a few tonnes. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Weber announced that he had recorded simultaneous oscillations in detectors 1000 km apart, waves he believed originated from an astrophysical event. Many physicists were sceptical about the results, but these early experiments initiated research into gravitational waves that is still ongoing. Current gravitational wave experiments, such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) and Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), are descendants of Weber's original work.
Weber was born in 1919 in Paterson, New Jersey, and graduated in 1940. He spent eight years as an electrical engineer in the US Navy, and was assigned as navigator on the aircraft carrier Lexington during World War II. After his resignation from the Navy in 1948, Weber went on to obtain his PhD in 1951 from the Catholic University of America. He was appointed professor of electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, and he moved into the physics department in 1961 when he began his investigations into gravitational waves.
Weber died on 30 September in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is survived by his wife, the astrophysicist Virginia Trimble.