100: Barry Barish - Black Holes, Nobel Prizes & The Imposter Syndrome


Barry Barish

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Barry Barish is an emeritus professor at Caltech, where he has worked since 1963. He became director of the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) project in 1997, which led to his Nobel Prize in 2017. He has many other awards and is a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and American Physical Society, of which he was also president.

Barry joins our Nobel Minds playlist on the INTO THE IMPOSSIBLE podcast. He shared the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics with Rai Weiss and Kip Thorne “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.” We discuss Barry’s long and remarkable career that covers many disciplines within physics. It’s not the standard model, but he has a confidence about himself, and his contributions that make it seem perfectly natural to have been part of such varied, noteworthy projects during his career. Despite that, Barry also admits to feeling like an imposter at times, especially when singing the same Nobel register as Einstein. What a moment!

  • 00:00:00 Introduction
  • 00:03:55 Starting out at Cal Tech with long time collaborator Kip Thorne.
  • 00:11:47 Changing from particle physics to gravity astronomy. Change or stagnate!
  • 00:17:13 Was the sad demise of the US supercollider really fortuitous?
  • 00:20:00 How did the discovery of the Higgs Boson by CERN make you feel?
  • 00:22:07 What detector technology enabled the discovery of the Higgs Boson?
  • 00:23:00 What fascinates Barry the most about gravity astronomy? 00:27:50 The feedback cycle between theory and experiment
  • 00:28:45 Does there need to be a unified theory of everything?
  • 00:29:54 Can/will LIGO detect primordial gravitational waves?
  • 00:37:40 What is your philosophy of experimental science? When do you stop an experiment? Why peer review is too conservative.
  • 00:41:00 What skill sets can be applied from one branch of science to another? Lessons from the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, and Managing big projects. Change Management.
  • 00:57:45 How Barry began in particle physics at Berkley. How students learn today.
  • 01:03:45 What is your vision for the future of LIGO?
  • 01:10:10 What would most like to leave as an ethical will for future generations?
  • 01:13:45 About curiosity
  • 01:14:50 What have you accomplished that you once thought was impossible?

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