2016 Cosmology Prize
Kip S. Thorne was born on June 1, 1940, in Logan, UT, to D. Wynne Thorne (a professor of soil chemistry) and Alison C. Thorne (an economist and community activist). Thorne received his B.S. in Physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1962, then spent three years at Princeton University working on his A.M. and Ph.D. in Physics. In 1966 Thorne returned to Caltech as a research fellow in physics, and he remained there as a physics professor for the rest of his academic career. Since 2009 he has been the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus.
Thorne traces his lifelong interest in astrophysics to a lecture on astronomy that his mother took him to when he was 8 years old. At age 13 he read George Gamow’s classic introduction to science One, Two, Three . . . Infinity and was, he said, “totally hooked” on general relativity and its relationship to astronomy. He pursued physics as an undergraduate at Caltech and then spent four years at Princeton working with John Archibald Wheeler, probably the leading proponent of the postwar revival of research on general relativity. Thorne learned Russian so that he could understand the writings of physicists in the Soviet Union working on astrophysics and relativity; he soon became one of the few American scientists who traveled on a regular basis to the USSR, where he collaborated with Russian scientists on research in astrophysics and gravitational waves.
In addition to many other awards and honors, Thorne was named the California Scientist of the Year in 2004, and he received the Karl Schwarzschild Medal from the Astronomical Society of Germany in 1996, and a UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold Medial in 2010. As a writer of books that popularize science, he has twice won the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award as well as the Phi Beta Kappa Science Writing Award. For his work as an executive producer and science advisor on the 2014 film Interstellar, translating black hole and wormhole physics into accurate visual effects, he received the Space Pioneer Award for Mass Media from the National Space Society.