Barry C. Barish '57, Ph.D. '63

Alumnus of the Year proves Einstein was right

Barry C. Barish ’57, Ph.D. ’63 says watching ocean waves marked the start of his work on detecting gravitational waves a century after Einstein’s prediction. His research would win him the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, which he shares, as well as Berkeley’s 2018 Alumnus of the Year.

About 25 years ago, Barish and Charles Peck, a fellow eminent physicist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), met for a beach walk. Peck asked Barish, who had already led many important particle physics experiments, including landmark neutrino studies, to take over leadership of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO).

The faint signal of gravitational waves was generated 1.3 billion years ago when two black holes merged. That wave reached Earth on September 14, 2015, and was picked up by twin detectors located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. Since then, LIGO has detected several black hole mergers and a binary neutron star merger.

“It’s the beginning of a new astronomy — multi-messenger astronomy, which I believe will lead to an exciting new understanding of our universe in the coming decades and beyond,” Barish says.

He says he met his two loves at Cal: physics and his wife, Samoan. They have two children and three grandchildren. Barish continues to work with fellow physicists at Caltech to make LIGO even more sensitive, as well as develop concepts for next-generation gravitational wave detectors.

Learn about the Achievement Awards, celebrating remarkable business leaders, fa…

Explore Other Stories

The Big C on Charter Hill

Give me a (concrete) C!

On our rugged eastern foothills,
Stands our symbol clear and bold, 
Big C means to fight and strive
And win for blue and gold.

— Excerpt from the song “Big C,” written in 1913 by Harold P. Williams and N. Loyall McLaren

Lillian Gilbreth

Lillian Gilbreth: A master of human behavior and engineering

By today’s standards, Lillian Gilbreth 1900, M.A. 1902 was a superwoman. She studied literature at Berkeley in anticipation of becoming a teacher — and was the first woman to speak at a commencement ceremony — but her path took a dramatic turn. In 1915, she earned a Ph.D.

Trustees from the College of California at Founders Rock, 1860

Charter Day: A university is born

The University of California began on March 23, 1868, when Gov. Henry Haight signed an act catalyzing the audacious idea that California should have a great public university — one that would serve equally the children of immigrants and settlers, landowners and industrial barons.

Cal's emblem and colors

Cal’s blue, gold, and bear

The university colors of blue and gold were chosen in 1873 by a committee of representatives from each class. Blue was considered because it reflected the sky, student cadet uniforms, and Yale, from which many of the university’s founders and early administrators had graduated.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain finds a home at Berkeley

If Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, had lived today, his nonstop outpouring of observations on American life might fit neatly on a medium-size hard drive.

David Blackwell

David Blackwell: A trailblazing statistician

“He had this great talent for making things appear simple. … That is the ultimate best thing in mathematics, if you have an insight that something seemingly complicated is really simple, but simple after the fact.”