By: Liza Carbe
Photos by Jean-Pierre Durand
Pasadena; California (The Hollywood Times) 3/1/2019 – Kip Thorne, theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate was Caltech’s first speaker in their new Robert F. Christy Lecture Series. Thorne, a Caltech alumnus who spent 39 years as Professor of Theoretical Physics and held the prestigious Feynman Professorship for 18 of those – leading research groups in relativistic astrophysics and gravitational physics – spoke of his life, work and legacy to a sold-out house at Caltech’s Beckman auditorium.
Thorne’s long and successful career has earned him multiple awards including the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award in Physics and Astronomy, the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (2016) the Nobel Prize in Physics (2017) to name but a few in a very long list. He has served on several national and international committees including the International Committee on General Relativity and Gravitation. Two of his most prestigious colleagues and friends included legendary physicist Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan.
Thorne condensed his work in relativistic astrophysics, gravitational physics, with emphasis on relativistic stars, black holes, wormholes and time travel, eventually leading to his groundbreaking work in gravitational waves and LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) into a very engaging 60 minute lecture, which was equally intriguing to the veteran physicist and layperson alike. Masterfully weaving anecdotal stories of his life as a child, student and professor, he pulled the listeners into the more technical discussion of his professional work as a physicist.
The first part of the lecture broke down the workings of a black holes (no easy feat) which he did with the help of diagrams and well-considered explanations. This helped to set up the work he and his team did with detecting and measuring gravitational waves and LIGO work. The idea for measuring gravitational waves was initially rejected by Mr. Thorne, but upon further study he realized his colleague was onto something. Thorne and his team at Caltech spent three years procuring a grant to build this device that they theorized would eventually measure gravitational waves, giving science a better understanding of our universe and how it works. Thorne went on to explain after many years of building and testing the device, they were finally able to put it into action. where the two LIGO devices were being tuned to begin their first gravity wave search. The computer data seemed too good to be true. The 1000-person LIGO collaboration team studied the results exhaustively to be absolutely sure they had valid results. Five months later the entire team was convinced. Gravity waves had in fact been proven.
Mr. Thorne has had fifty-three students receive their PhD’s under his mentorship and has mentored around sixty postdoctoral students. He is the author of Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy, as well being the co-author of the textbooks Gravitation (1973, with Charles Misner and John Archibald Wheeler) and Modern Classical Physics (2017, with Rodger Blandford).
Since his retirement from Caltech, he has consulted for Christopher Nolan’s film Interstellar. He is working on a new movie project that is very hush-hush, collaborating with the notable composer Hans Zimmer and visual effects artist Paul Franklin. He also has a book coming out on The Warped Side of the Universe, composed of paintings by the artist Lia Halloran and poetic prose by Kip.
For more information on Kip Thorne and his past and present work please visit https://www.its.caltech.edu/~kip/index.html/
The full lecture should be available shortly on Caltech’s website. Caltech’s Earnest C. Watson Lecture series, which includes this new Robert F. Christy series, will consist of thought-provoking lectures that you will want to add to your calendar in the coming years!
Caltech also has many other exceptional series including The Coleman Chamber Music series, Pasadena Folk Music Society and Caltech Performing and Visual Arts Classes.