Kip Thorne - Biography

Biography

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. In June 2009 he resigned his Feynman Professorship (he is now the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus) to pursue a career of writing and movie making. His first film project will team him with Steven Spielberg.

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 1977. Thorne and his second wife, Carolee Joyce Winstein, a professor of biokinesiology and physical therapy at USC, married in 1984.

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