“LIGO’s detection is one of the coolest discoveries in decades, and hints at the hopes and dreams we have for the ‘O,’ an observatory that offers a revolutionary new window into the Universe. LIGO will show us wonders that promise to change our understanding of space and time itself,” said Dr. Dan Arvizu, National Science Board (NSB) chair and PreCourt Energy scholar at Stanford University.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) began supporting early studies of LIGO in 1975. The project formally came to NSB in 1984, accompanied by an advisory committee recommendation that noted the large risks and uncertainties, but concluded “the fundamental scientific merits of such an investigation so important as to be worth a substantial investment.”

At each step in this decades-long project, NSF leadership considered the risks and continued to agree that the potential impact was worth the investment in light of how little we know in some areas of physics and astrophysics. A generation of Board members have understood that LIGO is part of NSF’s core mission to “promote the progress of science,” and that NSF is the only supporter of ground-based gravitational physics in the United States. This discovery is a significant milestone for public research, and will open pathways to future discoveries that have yet to be imagined.

“Only the federal government can invest in this kind of long-range, high-risk research,” said Dr. Maria Zuber, Board Member and vice president for research at MIT. “In this case the National Science Foundation, with a successful outcome far from assured, nurtured an idea with small grants, followed by major investments over decades. The magnificent discoveries reported here are only the tip of the iceberg of what will be learned as this new observatory takes its place alongside NSF’s electromagnetic telescopes and the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole.”

“I’m overwhelmed by the implications of this discovery,” said Dr. Anneila Sargent, professor of astronomy at the California Institute of Technology and chair of NSB’s Committee on Programs and Plans. “It is clearly only the first of many breakthroughs we’ll hear from the LIGO team. It also serves to highlight the value of partnerships between NSF and universities; the long-term partnership between this federal science agency and MIT and Caltech accomplished what was once thought to be unachievable.”