Peter Fritschel Receives The Optical Society's 2018 Charles Hard Townes Award

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Optical Society Presents the 2018 Charles Hard Townes Award

WASHINGTON—The Optical Society (OSA) is pleased to name Peter Fritschel, Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA the 2018 Charles Hard Townes Award recipient. Fritschel is recognized for advances in quantum-limited precision measurement in the Advanced LIGO detectors, leading to the first direct detection of gravitational waves. He was honored during the CLEO 2018 Plenary Session in San Jose, California, USA.

This award was established in 1980 to honor Charles Hard Townes, whose pioneering contributions to masers and lasers led to the development of the field of quantum electronics. It is given to an individual or a group for outstanding experimental or theoretical work, discovery or invention in the field of quantum electronics. Bell Laboratories originally endowed the award. Hewlett-Packard, The Perkin Fund, and students and colleagues of Charles Townes also made generous contributions.

“Peter Fritschel has dedicated much of his career to gravitational wave detection. His studies, along with many others, have lead us into the age of multi-messenger astronomy,” said Charles H. Townes Award Selection Committee Chair, Giulio Cerullo, Politecnico di Milano, Italy. “We have come a long way in imaging the universe through ground-based laser technology and I am confident that Fritschel and his team will continue to provide us insights into our universe and beyond.”
2019 President of The Optical Society and Professor of Physics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway, Ursula Gibson, stated, “Advancements in optical interferometry builds upon the early work of one of our members, Charles Townes. On behalf of The Optical Society, I am honored to present this award to Peter for his impactful research in gravitational wave research.”
Peter Fritschel is a Senior Research Scientist in the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at M.I.T. He is currently Chief Detector Scientist for LIGO – the Laser Interferometric Gravitational-wave Observatory. He received his B.S. in physics from Swarthmore College, and his Ph.D. in physics from M.I.T., developing techniques for gravitational wave detection using interferometry. He is a recipient of the 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics and the 2018 Berkeley Prize in Astronomy, and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
His research has focused on the design and development of ground-based gravitational-wave detectors, using extraordinarily sensitive, multi-kilometer baseline interferometers. The detectors use innovative precision measurement techniques, such as combining Fabry-Perot and Michelson interferometers, light recycling, and squeezed vacuum injection, to achieve sub-attometer position sensitivity. In the last two years these detectors have opened the gravitational-wave window on the universe, making transformational discoveries of gravitational waves emitted from the mergers of several binary black hole systems, and from the merger of two neutron stars.
About The Optical Society
Founded in 1916, The Optical Society (OSA) is the leading professional organization for scientists, engineers, students and business leaders who fuel discoveries, shape real-life applications and accelerate achievements in the science of light. Through world-renowned publications, meetings and membership initiatives, OSA provides quality research, inspired interactions and dedicated resources for its extensive global network of optics and photonics experts. For more information, visit

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