On Thursday 25 May of this year, the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) will award an honorary doctoral degree to Professor Kip S. Thorne, one of the world’s leading experts in the fields of theoretical physics, gravitational physics and astrophysics. His career has been outstanding in fields of science such as gravity, optics and astrophysics, but also in highly technological fields such as the design of signal processing algorithms. The investiture ceremony will take place at 11.30 a.m. in the auditorium of the Vèrtex building and can be followed live on UPCtv.
Kip S. Thorne (Logan, Utah, 1940) is currently Feynman Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the United States. He graduated from Caltech in 1962 and obtained a doctoral degree from Princeton University in 1965. He is one of the world’s leading experts in gravitational physics and astrophysics, specialising in stellar evolution, black holes, and especially the emission of gravitational waves, on which he is the world authority. He was one of the promoters of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a project that allowed him to make the first direct observation of these waves, the last of the predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity that still had to be proven. This discovery has opened up a new era for physics, astrophysics and cosmology and has been compared to the introduction of the first optical telescopes for astronomical observation, because it will allow the properties of the universe to be explored through a new observational window. The founders of LIGO—Rainer Weiss, Ronald Drever and Thorne himself—are firm candidates for the next Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery.
Thorne has pursued a multidisciplinary career, focusing not only on areas of science such as gravity, optics and astrophysics, but also on highly technological areas such as the design of signal processing algorithms. The impact of his academic work is unquestionable because his work has received more than 30,000 citations, he has an h-index of 79, and he has mentored a whole generation of scientists who have completed their doctoral thesis under his supervision. Thorne has also received numerous awards from the most prestigious academic institutions in the world.
Since 2009, Thorne has combined scientific research with his role as a science writer and populariser. He was a scientific consultant and executive producer of the film Interstellar directed by Christopher Nolan, which deals with the possibility of time travel through a wormhole. His research currently focuses on exploring the non-linear dynamics of curved space-time with computer simulations and analytical calculations.
The proposal to award Professor Thorne an honorary doctorate was sponsored by the UPC’s Department of Physics and by Professor Enrique Garcia-Berro from the same department, who will deliver the oration in praise of Professor Thorne. The proposal was approved by the UPC’s Governing Council on 15 December of last year. It received the support of the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO, a university research institute affiliated to the UPC, the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC), the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics of the Leibniz Universität Hannover, the Department of Physics of the Università degli Studi di Trento, and the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics of the University of Cambridge.
During his stay in Barcelona for the investiture ceremony, Professor Thorne will participate in the discussion “Geometrodynamics: Exploring the Nonlinear Dynamics of Curved Spacetime with Computer Simulations and Gravitational-Wave Observations”, which will be held in Castelldefels at 12 noon on Friday 26 May in the auditorium of the ICFO on the UPC’s Baix Llobregat Campus. At 6 p.m. on the same day, Professor Thorne will deliver a lecture entitled “Exploring the Universe with Gravitational Waves: from the Big Bang to Black Holes” at La Pedrera, Barcelona.
Screening of Interstellar and conferences on gravitational waves at the UPC
During Kip S. Thorne’s visit, the UPC has organised three activities in Barcelona. The first is Ones gravitatòries: El so de l’espai-temps, a lecture by Carlos F. Sopuerta, from the Institute of Space Sciences, on Monday 22 May, at 12 noon, in the lecture hall of the School of Mathematics and Statistics (C. Pau Gargallo, 14).
The second is Les ones gravitacionals: les noves missatgeres de l’univers, a lecture by Alícia M. Sintes, a professor at the University of the Balearic Islands, on Wednesday 24 May, at 12 noon, in the North Campus’s Aula Màster (C. Jordi Girona, 1-3).
Also on 24 May, in the same venue, at 6 p.m., the film Interstellar, for which Thorne was the scientific advisor and executive producer, will be shown. The film will be preceded by a presentation by the professor Jordi José, who is also a science writer and an expert in science fiction who uses science fiction in the classroom.