Kip Thorne

Kip Thorne

name = Kip Thorne

image_width = 240px
caption =
birth_date = birth date and age|1940|6|1
birth_place = Logan, Utah
death_date =
death_place =
residence =
nationality =
field = Physics
work_institution = Caltech
alma_mater = Caltech, Princeton University
doctoral_advisor = John Archibald Wheeler
doctoral_students = Saul Teukolsky
Alan Lightman
William H. Press
Carlton M. Caves
Clifford M. Will
Richard H. Price
Lee Samuel Finn
known_for = Relativity and Cosmology
prizes =
footnotes =

Kip Stephen Thorne (born June 1, 1940) is an American theoretical physicist, known for his prolific contributions in gravitation physics and astrophysics and for having trained a generation of scientists. A longtime friend and colleague of Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan, he is the current Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech and one of the world’s leading experts on the astrophysical implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.


Thorne was born in Logan, Utah, the son of Utah State University professors D. Wynne Thorne and Alison C. Thorne, a soil chemist and an economist, respectively. Raised in an academic environment, two of his four siblings are also professors. He became interested in science at the age of eight, after attending a lecture about the solar system. Thorne and his mother then worked out calculations for their own model of the solar system.

Thorne rapidly excelled at academics early in life, becoming one of the youngest full professors in the history of the California Institute of Technology. He received his B.S. from Caltech in 1962, and Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1965. He wrote his Ph.D. thesis, "Geometrodynamics of Cylindrical Systems", under the supervision of relativist John Wheeler. 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, a post he currently holds.

Throughout the years, Thorne has served as a mentor and thesis advisor for many leading theorists who now work on observational, experimental, or astrophysical aspects of general relativity. Approximately 50 physicists have received Ph.D.s at Caltech under Thorne's personal mentorship.

Thorne is known for his ability to convey the excitement and significance of discoveries in gravitation and astrophysics to both professional and lay audiences. In 1999, Thorne made some speculations on what the 21st century will find as the answers to the following questions:
* 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?

His presentations on subjects such as black holes, gravitational radiation, relativity, time travel, and wormholes have been included in PBS shows in the U.S. and in the United Kingdom on the BBC.

Thorne and Linda Jean Peterson married in 1960. Their children are Kares Anne and Bret Carter, an architect. Thorne and Peterson divorced in 1970. Thorne and his second wife, Carolee Joyce Winstein, a professor of biokinesiology and physical therapy at USC, married in 1984.


Thorne's research has principally focused on relativistic astrophysics and gravitation physics, with emphasis on relativistic stars, black holes and especially gravitational waves. He is perhaps best known to the public for his controversial theory that wormholes can conceivably be used for time travel. However, Thorne's scientific contributions, which center on the general nature of space, time, and gravity, span the full range of topics in general relativity.

Gravity waves and LIGO

Among a handful of physicists, Thorne is considered one of the world’s authorities on gravitational waves. In part, his work has dealt with the prediction of gravity-wave strengths and their temporal signatures as observed on Earth. These “signatures” are of great relevance to LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory), a multi-institution gravity-wave experiment for which Thorne has been a leading proponent — in 1984, he cofounded the LIGO 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. A significant aspect of his research is developing the mathematics necessary to analyze these objects. [] Thorne also carries out engineering design analyses for features of the LIGO that cannot be developed on the basis of experiment and he gives advice on data analysis algorithms by which the waves will be sought. He has provided theoretical support for LIGO, including identifying gravitational wave sources that LIGO should target, designing the baffles to control scattered light in the LIGO beam tubes, and — in collaboration with Vladimir Braginsky's (Moscow Russia) research group — inventing quantum-nondemolition designs for advanced gravity-wave detectors and ways to reduce the most serious kind of noise in advanced detectors: thermoelastic noise. With Carlton M. Caves, Thorne invented the back-action-evasion approach to quantum nondemolition measurements of the quadrature amplitudes of harmonic oscillators — a technique applicable both in gravitational wave detection and quantum optics.

Black hole cosmology

Thorne has made prolific contributions to black hole cosmology. Thorne proposed his Hoop Conjecture that cast aside the thought of a naked singularity. The Hoop Conjecture describes an imploding star turning into a black hole when the critical circumference of the designed hoop can be placed around it and set into rotation. [] That is, any object of mass M around which a hoop of circumference egin{matrix} frac{4 pi GM}{c^2} end{matrix} can be spun must be a black hole. As a tool to be used in both enterprises, astrophysics and theoretical physics, Thorne has developed an unusual approach, called the "Membrane Paradigm", to the theory of black holes and used it to clarify the "Blandford-Znajek" mechanism by which black holes may power some quasars and active galactic nuclei. Thorne has investigated the quantum statistical mechanical origin of the entropy of a black hole and the entropy of a cosmological horizon in an inflationary model of the universe. With Wojciech Zurek he showed that the entropy of a black hole of known mass, angular momentum, and electric charge is the logarithm of the number of ways that the hole could have been made. With Igor Novikov and Don Page he developed the general relativistic theory of thin accretion disks around black holes, and using this theory he deduced that with a doubling of its mass by such accretion a black hole will be spun up to 0.998 of the maximum spin allowed by general relativity, but never any farther; this is probably the maximum black-hole spin allowed in Nature. He, along with his mentor John Wheeler, additionally proved that it was impossible for cylindrical magnetic field lines to implode. Both Hawking and Thorne have theorized that a singularity exists in the interior of a black hole.

Wormholes and time travel

Thorne was one of the first people to conduct scientific research on whether the laws of physics permit space and time to be multiply connected (can there exist classical, traversable wormholes and "time machines"?). With Sung-Won Kim, Thorne identified a universal physical mechanism (the explosive growth of vacuum polarization of quantum fields), that may always prevent spacetime from developing closed timelike curves (i.e., prevent "backward time travel"). "With Mike Morris and Ulvi Yurtsever he showed that traversable Lorentzian wormholes can exist in the structure of spacetime only if they are threaded by quantum fields in quantum states that violate the averaged null energy condition (i.e. have negative renormalized energy spread over a sufficiently large region). This has triggered research to explore the ability of quantum fields to possess such extended negative energy. Recent calculations by Thorne indicate that simple masses passing through traversable wormholes could never engender paradoxes — there are "no" initial conditions that lead to paradox once time travel is introduced. If his results can be generalised, they would suggest that none of the supposed paradoxes formulated in time travel stories can actually be formulated at a precise physical level: that is, that "any" situation in a time travel story turns out to permit "many" consistent solutions.

Relativistic stars, multipoles, & other endeavors

With Anna Żytkow , Thorne predicted the existence of red supergiant stars with neutron-star cores (Thorne-Żytkow objects). Most importantly, he laid the foundations for the theory of pulsations of relativistic stars and the gravitational radiation they emit. With James Hartle, Thorne derived from general relativity the laws of motion and precession of black holes and other relativistic bodies, including the influence of the coupling of their multipole moments to the spacetime curvature of nearby objects. Thorne has also theoretically predicted the existence of universally antigravitating "exotic matter" — the element needed to accelerate the expansion rate of the universe, keep traversable wormhole "Star Gates" open and keep timelike geodesic free float "warp drives" working. With Clifford Will and others of his students, he laid foundations for the theoretical interpretation of experimental tests of relativistic theories of gravity — foundations on which Will and others then built. Thorne is currently interested in the origin of classical space and time from the quantum foam of quantum gravity theory.


Thorne has written and edited books on topics in gravitational theory and high-energy astrophysics. In 1973, he co-authored the classic textbook "Gravitation" with Charles Misner and John Wheeler; [cite book
last = Misner | first = Charles W. | coauthors = Kip S. Thorne, John Archibald Wheeler | title = Gravitation | publisher = W. H. Freeman | location = San Francisco | year = 1973 | month = September | id = ISBN 0-7167-0344-0
] from which most of the present generation of scientists have learned general relativity theory. In 1994, he published "", 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'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.

Thorne has published more than 150 articles in scholarly journals.

ome recent references

*Thorne, K. S., in 300 Years of Gravitation, (Eds.) S. W. Hawking and W. Israel, 1987, (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press), "Gravitational Radiation".

*Thorne, K. S., Price, R. H. and Macdonald, D. M., "Black Holes, The Membrane Paradigm", 1986, (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press).

*Friedman, J., Morris, M. S., Novikov, I. D., Echeverria, F., Klinkhammer, G., Thorne, K. S. and Yurtsever, U., Physical Review D., 1990, (in press), "Cauchy Problem in Spacetimes with Closed Timelike Curves".

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,
* the German Astronomical Society's Karl Schwarzschild Medal,
* the Robinson Prize in Cosmology from the University of Newcastle, England,
* the 's Common Wealth Awards for Science and Invention, and
* the California Science Center's California Scientist of the Year Award (2003).

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.

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.


Carl Sagan once asked Thorne to examine the time travel section of the manuscript for "Contact". Thorne immediately dismissed Sagan's hypothesis; however, he later had an epiphany — wormholes may be used as time machines. His subsequent work, "Wormholes, Time Machines and the Weak Energy Condition", along with other papers, has made him popular with science fiction fans. He did not care that it was highly speculative work, putting as much energy into it as other subjects.

In June 2006, Steven Spielberg announced he would direct a scientifically accurate film about "a group of explorers who travel through a worm hole and into another dimension", [cite news | author=Michael Fleming | url= | title=Space chase pic on Par launch pad | publisher=Variety | date=2006-06-14 | accessdate=2006-10-29 ] from a treatment by Kip Thorne and producer Lynda Obst.cite news | author=Jay A. Fernandez | url=,1,3123129.story?track=rss&ctrack=1&cset=true | title=Jonah Nolan turns science into a film script | publisher=Los Angeles Times | date=2007-03-28 | accessdate=2007-03-28 ] In January 2007, screenwriter Jonathan Nolan met with the studio to discuss adapting Obst and Thorne's treatment into a narrative screenplay. The screenwriter suggested the addition of a "time element" to the treatment's basic idea, which was welcomed by Obst and Thorne. In March, Paramount hired Nolan as well as scientists from Caltech, forming a workshop who will begin adapting the treatment after completing the script for Warner Bros.' "The Chicago Fire". [cite news | author=Michael Fleming | url= | title=Nolan to write Spielberg film | publisher=Variety | date=2007-03-22 | accessdate=2007-03-23 ] The following July, Kip Thorne said there was a push by people for him to portray himself in the film "Interstellar". [cite news | author=Leigh Dayton | url=,20867,22071820-30417,00.html | title=Warped in La La Land | publisher=The Australian | date=2007-07-14 | accessdate=2007-07-20 ] The movie is scheduled to be released in 2011. [cite web |url= |title=Interstellar (2011) on IMDB | accessdate=2008-09-13 |work= |publisher= |date= ]

ee also

* Hoop Conjecture
* Membrane Paradigm
* Time travel
* Thorne-Zytkow object
* Thorne-Hawking-Preskill bet
* Stephen Hawking
* John Wheeler


External links

*imdb name|id=0861399|name=Kip Thorne
* [ Home Page]
* [ Crunch Time]
* [ Founding Fathers of Relativity]

NAME= Thorne, Kip
DATE OF BIRTH= June 1, 1940

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