Ronald Drever Scotland United States

Biography of Ronald Drever

Ronald Drever 1972
Ronald Drever 1972

Ronald Drever graduated from the University of Glasgow BSc (Pure Science Honours) in 1953 and PhD (in Natural Philosophy) in 1958. Drever became a pioneer of gravitational wave detector experiments and laser stabilisation. He was a co-founder of ‘LIGO’, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory in the US so was pivotal in the discovery of Gravitational Waves in September 2015.

Ronald W Drever was educated at Glasgow Academy before coming to the University. He graduated BSc with Honours in 1953 and continued his study at the University and graduated with a PhD in 1959 with the thesis: Studies of orbital electron capture using proportional counters.

Following his Ph.D Ronald Drever continued to work with the University of Glasgow carrying out a very fundamental experiment on the isotropy of space and a number of experiments involving beta decay to set a limit on the mass of the electron neutrino. In 1970, following the claimed detection of gravitational waves by Joseph Weber in the USA, he initiated a gravitational waves group in Glasgow, being joined by Jim Hough in this venture in 1971. They were involved in building early gravitational wave detectors in Glasgow, which monitored outputs from piezoelectric transducers attached to aluminium bars, and while these detectors were possibly more sensitive than those of Weber and of other researchers in the USA and Europe no gravitational waves were observed.

In 1979 Drever was invited, half-time, to the California Institute of Technology to initiate an experimental effort on gravitational wave detection and in 1984 he left Glasgow and became a full-time professor at Caltech where he brought technology and an exceptionally sensitive detector design from Glasgow. This, together with a number of other original ideas, were key steps to the realization of the LIGO Project for a gravitational-wave observatory. Drever continued to work on the LIGO project in Caltech until 1994 and became Professor of Physics Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology in 2002.

Ronald Drever co-founded The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) with Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss in the US over the period from 1986 till 1994 and this large-scale physics experiment and observatory, after a major upgrade between 2010 to 2015, allowed for the detection of gravitational waves.

From 1984 the group in Glasgow, led by Jim Hough, also continued to develop gravitational wave detectors, becoming the Institute for Gravitational Research, co-leading the GEO 600 detector in Germany and providing the suspension technology for an upgrade to the LIGO detectors during the period 2010 to 2015, to allow the detection of gravitational waves to be made. The IGR in Glasgow is currently led by Professor Sheila Rowan with Prof Ken Strain as Deputy Director and has approximately 80 members.

Drever was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of the American Physical Society, of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and was earlier a Vice President of the Royal Astronomical Society. He has held many advisory positions to government funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation (U.S.A.) and the Astronomy Policy and Grants committee (U.K.).

Drever with Rainer Weiss (MIT) was also awarded the 2007 Einstein Prize by the American Physical Society:

"For fundamental contributions to the development of gravitational wave detectors based on optical interferometry, leading to the successful operation of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory."

Ronald Drever, with Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration have also been awarded the Yuri Milner Foundation’s Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (2016) and the Gruber Prize in Cosmology (2016), together with the Shaw Prize in Astronomy (2016) and the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics (2016).


Ronald Drever
Born 26 October 1931.
Died 7 March 2017.
GU Degrees: BSc, 1953; PhD, 1958;
University Link: Graduate, Researcher
Occupation categories: physicists
Record last updated: 21st Mar 2017

Country Associations

Scotland Scotland, No Region
Place of Birth

United States United States, California

University Connections

University Roles

  • Graduate
  • Researcher