Astrophysicist Kip Thorne visits CU for George Gamow Memorial Lecture

Now is an exciting time in the world of astrophysics and students should get involved, said professor Kip Thorne during the 51st George Gamow Memorial Lecture he spoke at on Thursday, titled “Probing the Warped Side of the Universe with Gravitational Waves: From the Big Bang to Black Holes.”

Thorne is a renowned astrophysics professor who is known for his work on the sci-fi thriller Interstellar and for his discovery of gravitational waves last year. According to CU professor of astrophysics Julia Comerford, Thorne almost certainly will receive a Nobel prize for the discovery.

The lecture series honors late CU physics professor George Gamow, who’s book One, Two, Three…Infinity was many people’s introduction to physics. The annual event features different scientists, many of whom are Nobel laureates.

Thorne said that Gamow’s book first inspired him to be a physicist, and that he was honored to speak at CU in the lecture series named in his honor. Thorne is retired from teaching but continues Gamow’s legacy of getting young people inspired about science. In fact, he was the executive producer of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Interstellar in hopes that the movie will serve as a gateway for young people to enter the field.

Before launching into advanced topics on his work, Thorne opened with “I’ll start with a quote from my friend Stephen Hawking: ‘Can you hear me?’” he said to a round of laughter.

Thorne’s biggest accomplishment is the discovery of gravitational waves, which he described as “oscillations in the fabric of space time.” Albert Einstein predicted them in his theory of relativity, but, he assumed it would be too difficult for humans to actually detect them.

Nevertheless, scientists set out to confirm the existence of these “ripples” by creating the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO. Thorne co-founded LIGO in 1984, and last year they discovered proof of gravitational waves’ existence for the first time.

The waves were observed emanating from the collision of two black holes, an event that made international news and was a breakthrough for the scientific community.

Thorne didn’t think he’d ever get to witness such an incredible discovery. Now, he thinks gravitational wave technology will be a major tool for the future of astrophysics. He believes it can help discover more black holes and neutron stars, and in his talk discussed how it could also help explain the beginnings of the universe.

“Gravitational waves are our prime tool for discovering the first second of the universe,” Thorne said.

Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Carina Julig at carina.julig@colorado.edu.

Carina Julig

Carina Julig serves as the managing editor of the CU Independent. A junior majoring in journalism and political science, she formerly interned at the Boulder Daily Camera and studied journalism abroad in the Balkans. She is a California native and cut her teeth in student journalism at her San Diego high school.

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