Prof. Andrzej Trautman_fot. Magdalena Wiśniewska-Krasińska


Prof. Andrzej Trautman from the University of Warsaw has received the Foundation for Polish Science Prize 2017 in the mathematical, physical and engineering sciences for the theoretical demonstration of the reality of gravitational waves.

Andrzej Trautman was born in Warsaw in 1933. After the 1944 Warsaw Uprising he was deported to Germany, from where he returned to Poland in May 1945. In autumn 1945 he and his mother moved to Paris where some of his family were living. After graduating from the Polish Lyceum in Paris, he returned to Warsaw in 1949. He was a student of the Warsaw University of Technology’s Faculty of Communications, simultaneously studying mathematics at the University of Warsaw. He worked at the University of Warsaw’s Institute of Theoretical Physics from 1961. He obtained his postdoctoral degree in 1962 at the University of Warsaw’s Faculty of Mathematics and Physics on the basis of a dissertation on the laws of conservation in general relativity theory.

He completed many fellowships and study visits, including at Syracuse University, College de France, the University of Chicago and the University of Vienna. Among his presentations at international conferences, he especially values his addresses at the International Conferences on General Relativity and Gravitation.

He was a long-time deputy director, and in 1975-1985 the director of the University of Warsaw’s Institute of Theoretical Physics. He has also headed the University of Warsaw’s Department of Theory of Relativity and Gravitation.

He is a full member of the Polish Academy of Sciences and a corresponding member of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was vice-president of the PAS in 1978-1980. He has served as chairman of the PAS Physics Committee, vice-president of the Polish Physical Society, and a member of the PAS Praesidium and many scientific councils. He chaired the editorial board of the Journal of Geometry and Physics for many years.

The professor retired at the end of 2003. In 2016 he was awarded a Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. Prior to that, he received a State Award First Class and the Polish Physical Society granted him its Marian Smoluchowski Medal.

The Foundation for Polish Science Prize 2017 was granted in recognition of Prof. Andrzej Trautman’s research contributing significantly to gravitational wave theory.

Prof. Andrzej Trautman has shown that gravitational waves exist and are possible to detect. His early works – from the late 1950s – served as the basis for most subsequent research on gravitational wave theory. Only 25 years old at the time, the researcher showed what gravitational waves were like far from their sources. He determined that at any given moment a gravitational wave system had well-defined energy decreasing with time. He presented the first exact solutions of Einstein’s vacuum equations. Many people believe that these achievements are among the most important theoretical physics results obtained in Poland after World War II.

Albert Einstein described gravitational waves as “wrinkles” induced and propagated in space-time in a similar way to waves on the surface of water. However, he suspected they were only the effect of mathematical transformations of equations of general relativity theory, an “illusion” that appeared only due to arbitrariness in choosing the frame of reference.

When Andrzej Trautman began his PhD studies at the Institute of Theoretical Physics, gravitational waves were a topic that still raised controversy. The prevalent opinion was that they were only an undetectable phenomenon present in theory. Many physicists, including Andrzej Trautman’s degree supervisor Prof. Leopold Infeld, had serious doubts as to the actual, physical existence of gravitational waves. The young researcher achieved a breakthrough in 1958. His original method assumed that solutions of field equations of general relativity theory presenting radiation had to fulfil certain boundary conditions in infinity. Trautman was able to determine such conditions. He published his results in two papers in the Polish Academy of Sciences Bulletin.

The FNP Prize recipient was able to prove that gravitational waves could not be eliminated from formulae by way of equation transformations – therefore they were real and should be possible to detect. In 1960, together with British mathematician Ivor Robinson he found a description of gravitational waves in the form of an exact solution of Einstein’s equations. These papers were published in the journal Physical Review Letters and in The Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.

In 2016 the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced the first detection of a gravitational wave produced by the collision of two black holes about 1 billion light years from Earth. The LIGO system opened a new “window” for observational astronomy. This “window” is expected to lead to many ground-breaking discoveries in future. The LIGO system is the most ambitious project of the National Science Foundation in the United States. Such a large investment would not have been possible if theoretical physics hadn’t clearly outlined the concept and expected properties of gravitational waves. On the way to fully understanding the gravitational radiation phenomenon, several key steps were made by Prof. Andrzej Trautman.

The scientists from the United States and Germany thanks to whom gravitational waves were observed for the first time received the Nobel Prize in 2017. But it was the relativist school existing in Warsaw that made it possible to develop the numerical methods currently being used by the LIGO and VIRGO teams.