How Einstein helped bring Scots scientist back from the grip of dementia


Einstein has helped bring a Scottish scientist back from the grip of dementia.

Ronald Drever began working on an experiment in the 1960s to help prove one of Einstein’s most outlandish predictions – gravitational waves.

Thirty years later the theory remained unproved and Professor Drever was affected by dementia to the point where he was not eating, sleeping or communicating.

But in February this year, Professor Drever’s experiment was finally used to prove Einstein’s theory.

Gravitational waves from the collision of black holes two billion years ago passed through the Earth and were detected by the experiment, designed by Professor Drever at Caltech – the California Institute of Technology.


Einstein has helped bring the Scots scientist back from the grips of dementia
Einstein has helped bring the Scots scientist back from the grips of dementia


And when the 85-year-old, who now lives in a care home near Edinburgh, was shown a report about the breakthrough by his brother, he “suddenly picked up”.

His niece, Anne Drever, said: “He had deteriorated. He was not sleeping or eating, we didn’t think he had long to go.”

Before the announcement, the former Glasgow University academic was confused much of the time. Afterwards, he started having conversations again.

Anne said he “he just suddenly picked up. That spark he hadn’t had for years became increasingly bright.”

Gravitational waves are ripples in the curvature of spacetime that cause stretching and squeezing on a miniscule scale to everything they pass through – including humans.

Proving their existence helps validate Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity as well as giving scientists a new method with which to study the universe.

Anne explained that she did not understand the significance of her uncle’s work when she was younger.

She said: “From a very early stage I remember my dad talking about Ronald being special and that he was doing something that was going to further our knowledge of the world.

“We all thought it was a bit of a laugh – our mad scientist uncle. He was rather quirky, rather unusual, his work was very much is life.

“We didn’t understand what he was doing. We thought my father was overinflating.”

On Sunday, Anne was in California with her son Thomas, 16, to collect Ronald’s share of the $3m (£2.4m) Breakthrough prize in Physics.

The scientist has also received the Kavli Prize, the Shaw Prize, the Gruber Prize in Cosmology and the Breakthrough Prize for his work.

It is believed he could win the Nobel Prize next year.

Prof Drever’s experiment involved creating a detector in Louisiana and another in Washington State, each of them 4km long. Having detectors thousands of miles apart allowed scientists to measure the tiny effect of the waves.

Speaking about Drever’s contribution to Physics, his collaborator, Kip Thorne, said: “We worked so hard together, our successes were so special. We had good conversations about the work from the 1970s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s when his memory was still good.”

Professor Thorne, 76, added: “He was an experimental physicist, and made inventions that improved it considerably.

“He really had some of the biggest contributions in terms of creativity and seeing ways to do things that improved the instruments in ways nobody else had seen.”

Professor Drever is the second Scottish scientist in the past few years to receive recognition for work completed in the 1960s.

Professor Peter Higgs, formerly of Edinburgh University, predicted the existence of a new particle, the Higgs boson, in the early 1960s, but it was not proven until 2013.

He received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work.

Previous articleIrn Bru-ce: Hilarious moment Scot finds other national drink in Oz
Next article“Collect yer maw” – Scot’s hilarious pic of woman who fell asleep on him on train