The team of scientists who discovered the gravitational waves will receive the $3 million (AU$4 million) Special Breakthrough Prize. The announcement has been made on May 3, stating that the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) scientists will be honoured at a formal ceremony later this year.

The three founders of LIGO who are Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever, will split the $1 million (AU$1.3 million) while the other LIGO researchers and engineers will share the remaining $2 million (AU$2.6 million).

They all proved Albert Einstein’s 1915 theory that gravitational waves do exist after detecting signals on September 14, 2015. Their findings have been published on Feb. 11 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

gravitational waves

Rainer Weiss. Photo: Bryce Vickmark/MIT

While Weiss at MIT is extremely pleased about the award, other researchers have not taken the idea of awarding money to scientists warmly. Others think that the money could be better spent on other things. Still, the LIGO scientists believe that the reward is actually good for science.

“Their greatest value, I think, is to raise public awareness of science and its remarkable achievements. And that is very important,” argues Thorne. “Science is a crucial tool for the future of humanity and for solving today’s societal problems, but science cannot achieve its potential unless the public understands and appreciates it. Prizes like this are an important part of that.”

However, both Thorne and Weiss did not divulge on what they were going to do with the award. On the other hand, Scottish scientist Drever is currently suffering from dementia, which did not allow him to celebrate the findings with his colleagues.

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation was established in 2012 by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and other leaders in tech, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Since its inception, more than $160 million (AU$213.5 million) have been given to deserving scientists.