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Nothing But The Facts - Kip S. Thorne

written by: Brian Jones•edited by: RC Davison•updated: 9/9/2009

Kip S. Thorne is the current Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech. His work has centered on gravitational and astrophysics in theorizing specifics of black holes and wormholes.

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    Born: June 1, 1940

    Birthplace: Logan, UT

    Parents: Professors D. Wynne and Alison C. Thorne


    B.S. Caltech, 1962

    Ph.D. Princeton University, 1965 – Theoretical Physics


    Associate Professor – Caltech, 1967

    Professor of Theoretical Physics – Caltech, 1970

    William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor, 1981

    Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, 1991 – present

    Fellowships – Woodrow Wilson, Danforth Foundation, Fulbright, and GuggenheimKip Thorne 

    Committee on US – USSR Cooperation in Physics

    Board – National Academy of Science, Space Science


    Honorary doctorates – Illinois College, Moscow State University, Utah State University, Clarement Graduate University

    Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society, 1996

    Karl Schwarzschild Medal of the German Astronomical Society, 1996

    Robinson Prize in Cosmology – University of Newcastle, 2002

    Albert Einstein Medal – Berne, Switzerland, 2009

    The Common Wealth Award in Science, 2005

    American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award, 1969, 1994

    Priroda Readers Choice Science Writing Award – Russia, 1989, 1990

    Phi Beta Kappa Science Writing Award, 1994


    Co-author – Gravitation Theory and Gravitational Collapse, 1965

    Black Holes: The Membrane Paradigm, 1986

    Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy, 1994

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    Kip S. Thorne is one of the leading physicists in the world in the area of gravitation and astrophysics. His specialties have been in relativistic stars which are neutron stars that do not behave under the rules of classical mechanics, black holes, and gravitational waves. His work culminated in the early 1970’s with the theory of pulsations from relativistic stars and over the course of the 70’s and 80’s he formalized the mathematical analysis of gravitational waves by which all studies are in the subject are conducted.

    Accretion Disk From Nearby Star (courtesy NASA) From the 1980’s through the 2000’s Thorne co-founded the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) Project and targeted which gravitational wave sources were worthy of study. Over the years, he has refined and advanced the LIGO system.

    In collaboration with Anna Zytkow, Thorne predicted the existence of red supergiant stars with neutron star cores, called Thorne-Zytkow Objects, which are the result of old binary systems where only one of the stars goes supernova. He also developed the theory of thin accretion disks around black holes. In addition, he created the hoop conjecture of black spotting and defining black holes and clarified how some black holes are a “power source” of quasars and galactic nuclei. He also theoretically proven that somewhere in the universe, there exists an antigravitating “exotic matter,” an element that allows accelerated expansion of the universe, traversable wormholes, and possible warp drive technology. This “exotic matter” has yet to be physically observed or found.

    Thorne has worked extensively on the theory of wormholes as traversable passages through time and space. In collaboration with Sung-Won Kim, Mike Morris, and Ulvi Yurtserver, his work came to the conclusion that backward time and physical travel through a wormhole can only exist in quantum states that violate the averaged null energy condition. In other words, a large field of negative energy must exist in a wide quantum field that has not been affected by vacuum polarization, a condition which normally causes quantum fields to maintain a neutral charge. This steered wormhole research into the area to see if such a quantum state can exist, thus mathematically proving that wormholes are possible in real space-time.

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    Interesting Facts

    • Parents were both professors as well as two of his four siblings and current wife, Carolee Joyce Winstein.

    • Became interested in science after he attended a lecture on the solar system when he was 8 years old.Wormhole 

    • Has published over 150 scientific articles in works such as Scientific American, Yearbook of Science and Technology, and Collier's Encyclopedia.

    • Has appeared on PBS and BBC presenting the subjects of black holes, relativity, time travel, and wormholes.

    • Is close friends with Stephen Hawking and, before his death, Carl Sagan. All three are commended for their ability to present highly scientific and technical data and ideas in an exciting manner to common people using lay terms.

    • Several of his lectures and even entire coursework are available free at his Caltech website.
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    Sample contents.