Nobel Laureate Kip Thorne accepts a bronze medallion Monday evening from J. Robert Oppeheimer Memorial Committee Chair Alison Pugmire following his lecture ‘A Brief History of Black Holes: From Oppenheimer to LIGO’ at Duane Smith Auditorium. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Prof. Kip Thorne chats with students Monday evening at a reception following his lecture at Duane Smith Auditorium. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason introduces Nobel Laureate Kip Thorne Monday evening at Duane Smith Auditorium. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
There was standing room only at Duane Smith Auditorium Monday evening as 2017 Nobel Laureate in Physics Kip Thorne delivered his lecture on “A Brief History of Black Holes: From Oppenheimer to LIGO” as the 48th J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Lecture.
While introducing Thorne, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason said Thorne has made contributions in every avenue of endeavor.
“Of course he has been recognized with a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017 for his contributions to the experimental discovery of gravitational waves by the LIGO project. That was a remarkable and exciting announcement but the thing that can get lost in the excitement and announcement of a new discovery is the very, very long journey that it took to get to that point and the tremendous commitment to systems that was taken on the part of that group to pursue something which at the outset was really pushing the envelope in terms of feasibility,” Mason said.
He said it took a lot of courage to follow the LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) through.
“The initial incarnation of LIGO – if it worked as well as it possibly could – the most likely outcome was that it would not see anything. However in doing that, enough was learned to allow the development of something called Advanced LIGO which if it worked as well as it possibly could, would see something. And that was the result that was recognized,” Mason said.
He noted that Thorne is not just recognized for his research contributions.
“He has also supervised 52 PhD students who have gone on to make major contributions in a variety of different respects, obviously in the pursuit of science and academic careers, in business and government and even here in Los Alamos and that’s another major legacy that any scientist can be proud of. In addition to those contributions to our understanding of the universe and the development of the next generation of physicists he’s also been really very active in the communication of science, through some of the traditional means such as textbooks that have widely adopted but also through popular culture including his contributions to Hollywood, of course,” Mason said. “This is really the measure of a totally well-rounded career and something that probably brings a lot of you here as well.”
Mason said the topic for Monday’s lecture really couldn’t be better suited to the individual being honored if one looked at the journey from the beginning of the idea of black holes and the role that Oppenheimer played as a professor active in research to the discovery that was realized in 2017.
The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory is a large-scale physics experiment and observatory to detect cosmic gravitational waves and to develop gravitational-wave observations as an astronomical tool. LIGO consists of two widely separated interferometers within the United States—one in Hanford, Wash., and the other in Livingston, Louis., — each a laser interferometer inside an L-shaped ultra-high vacuum tunnel and operated in unison to detect gravitational waves. The California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology led the design, construction and operation of the project.
Following the lecture Alison Pugmire, Chair of the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee said it is the Committee’s tradition to present its distinguished speakers with a bronze medallion inscriber with their name and lecture date. She said the medallion was designed by the late Santa Fe artist Una Hanbury and adopted from a bust of Oppenheimer executed by Hanbury in 1973. Only three casts of the bust exist; one commissioned by Los Alamos National Laboratory which is on display at LANL’s J. Robert Oppenheimer Study Center, one commissioned by the Smithsonian Institute’s National Portrait Gallery, and a cast obtained by the Committee and on long-term display at the Los Alamos History Museum. The medallion presented to Thorne was adapted from the third bust and features Oppenheimer’s profile.
The J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee provides scholarships for students in Los Alamos, Pojoaque and Santa Fe. This year the committee awarded one $4,500, one $3,500 and eight $3,000 scholarships to high school seniors who, in the spirit of excellence and open inquiry exemplified by Oppenheimer, have shown exceptional promise in the sciences and the arts.
The 2019 Oppenheimer Scholarship was awarded to Los Alamos High School senior Steven Zhao. Separately funded scholarships were awarded to Christopher Koh of Los Alamos and Ariana Garcia of Capital High School in memory of Nicholas C. Metropolis, to Sonyia Williams of Los Alamos in memory of Juliamarie Langham Grilly, to Joseph Sarrao of Los Alamos in memory of Nancy Laubach Freed, to Jonathan Doorn of Los Alamos in memory of Rosalie Heller, to Noelia Topete of Pojoaque Valley High School funded by the Delle Foundation in memory of Satch Cowan, to Taylor Roybal of Pojoaque Valley High School by Los Alamos National Bank, and Amanda Li of Los Alamos High School and Elizabeth Walker of Capital High School funded by the New Mexico Consortium.
Donations to scholarships are welcomed by the Committee and may be mailed to P.O. Box 220, Los Alamos, NM 87544 or made online at http://www.jromc.org.
Kip Thorne speaks with Los Alamos resident and LANL employee Tom Murphy during a reception in Thorne’s honor Monday evening. Murphy attended Thorne’s classes at the California Institute of Technology in 1982. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Kip Thorne waits in the wings with Alison Pugmire Monday evening prior to his lecture on the history of black holes at Duane Smith Auditorium. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Alison Pugmire, chair of the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee and Los Alamos County Councilor and Committee member David Izraelevitz. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Nobel Laureate in Physics Prof. Kip Thorne, Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus of the California Institute of Technology delivers his lecture on ‘A Brief History of Black Holes: From Oppenheimer to LIGO’ Monday evening at Duane Smith Auditorium. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com