Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Kip Stephen Thorne (born June 1, 1940) is an American theoretical physicist, known for his prolific contributions in the field of gravitation physics and astrophysics. He is the current Feynman professor of theoretical physics at Caltech.
Thorne was born in Logan, Utah. He received his B.S. from Caltech in 1962, and Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1965. Thorne returned to Caltech as an associate professor in 1967 and became a professor of theoretical physics in 1970, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor in 1981, and the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics in 1991 (and still is as of 2005). Throughout the years, Thorne has served as mentor and thesis advisor for many leading theorists who now work on observational, experimental, or astrophysical aspects of general relativity.
Areas of research
Thorne's primary areas of research include Einstein's general theory of relativity and astrophysics, with special interest in black holes, wormholes, gravitons, and gravitational waves. He is perhaps best known for his controversial theory that wormholes can conceivably be used for time travel. Thorne is the first person conducting scientific research on whether the laws of physics permit the existence of wormholes. Most importantly, he laid the foundations for the theory of pulsations of relativistic stars and the gravitational waves they emit. In 1984, he cofounded the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) Project (the largest project ever funded by the NSF) to discern and measure any fluctuations between two or more 'static' points; such fluctuations would be evidence of gravitational waves, as calculations describe.
Thorne has written and edited books on topics in gravitational theory and high-energy astrophysics . In 1973, he co-authored the textbook Gravitation with Charles Misner and John Wheeler; most of the present generation of scientists have learned general relativity theory from this text. In 1994, he published Black Holes and Time Warps : Einstein's Outrageous Legacy, a landmark book for non-scientists for which he received numerous awards. This book has been published in six languages, and editions in Chinese, Italian, Czech, and Polish are in press. Thorne has also published more than 150 articles in scholarly journals.
Thorne is also known for his ability to convey the excitement and significance of discoveries in gravitation and astrophysics to both professional and lay audiences. In 1999, Dr. Thorne made some speculations on what the 21st century will find as the answers to the following questions:
- Did warpage and the quantum together create the universe?
- Is there a "dark side of the universe" populated by objects such as black holes?
- Can we observe the birth of the universe and its dark side using radiation made from space-time warpage, or so-called "gravitational waves"?
- Will 21st century technology reveal quantum behavior in the realm of human-size objects?
Thorne's work has appeared in magazines and encyclopedias such as:
- Scientific American,
- McGraw-Hill Yearbook of Science and Technology , and
- Collier's Encyclopedia among many others.
Honors and awards
Thorne has been elected to:
- the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,
- the National Academy of Sciences,
- the Russian Academy of Sciences, and
- the American Philosophical Society.
He has been recognized by numerous awards including:
- the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award in Physics and Astronomy,
- the Phi Beta Kappa Science Writing Award,
- the American Physical Society's Lilienfeld Prize , and
- the German Astronomical Society 's Karl Schwarzschild Medal , and
- the Robinson Prize in Cosmology from the University of Newcastle, England.
He has been a Woodrow Wilson Fellow , Danforth Fellow , Guggenheim Fellow, and Fulbright Fellow. He has also received the honorary degree of doctor of humane letters from Claremont Graduate University.
Dr. Thorne has served on:
- the International Committee on General Relativity and Gravitation ,
- the Committee on US-USSR Cooperation in Physics , and
- the National Academy of Sciences' Space Science Board , which has advised NASA and Congress on space science policy .
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