Nobel Prize winner Kip Thorne came to UNC Thursday to give a talk on his studies called "My Romance with the Warped Side of the Universe."
It is the 25th anniversary of the Frey Foundation Distinguished Visiting Professorship at the College of Arts and Sciences.
Thorne retired in 2009 from the California Institute of Technology, where he also received his undergraduate degree, as a professor to start a new career and to continue his scientific research. He was an executive producer and scientific adviser on Christopher Nolan's 2014 film "Interstellar."
“Kip Thorne was involved in the making of Interstellar which, of course, has to use wormholes as one of the plot twists,” said Chris Clemens, senior associate dean of natural sciences.
Former UNC Chancellor Carol Folt helped organize this event during her time as chancellor and introduced Thorne at the talk.
He worked on his graduate thesis with a professor at Princeton University, John Wheeler, who once taught at UNC. Wheeler coined the term “black hole,” Clemens said.
Thorne finished his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1965 and became a professor at Caltech.
A close friend of Stephen Hawking, Thorne is played by actor Enzo Cilenti in the 2014 Hawking biographical film "The Theory of Everything."
Thorne was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017 for his contribution to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Project and observations of gravitational waves, which confirmed part of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.
In his lecture, Thorne explained what it means to have a “warped universe” with the phenomenons that are included in Interstellar: black holes, wormholes, singularities, time travel and gravitational waves.
“All of these other phenomenon (except gravitational waves) were built into Interstellar from the very beginning, before Christopher Nolan even became involved,” Thorne said.
After the film’s release, Thorne published a book called "The Science of Interstellar" that explains how his research was used in the movie.
He showed the audience a video that has “rarely been seen” of a pattern created by stars outside a black hole, generated by Double-Negative, the team who created the visual effects for Interstellar.
Using graphics to help explain, Thorne put black holes into perspective by demonstrating their size and creation.
“We now know, though we did not know at all at that time in 1962, that there are millions of black holes in our Milky Way Galaxy and trillions of black holes in the Universe,” Thorne said. “In 1962, when I arrived at Princeton, they were a total speculation.”
In addition to his other accomplishments, in 2018 he was awarded the Lewis Thomas Prize: Honoring the Scientist as Poet for being “the rare individual who bridges the worlds of science and the humanities.”
“It was Kip’s idea, and then a lot of his investment in design and numerical calculations required to detect these things, that led, a few years ago, to the detection of gravitational waves, which confirms Einstein’s theory and it gives us a way to study,” Clemens said.
Clemens also said that Thorne will be meeting with students outside of the talk.
“He has former students and former postdocs here, so he will be meeting in physics with students and faculty and former students of his, so there’s a chance for our graduate students to meet him outside the talk,” Clemens said.
Thorne concluded his lecture with his predictions for the future, including “probing the birth of the universe” in the 2030s in relation to the Big Bang Theory.
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