PASADENA, Calif.--Kip Thorne, a physicist who is famed for his work on the cosmic consequences of relativity, is one of five winners of the 2005 Common Wealth Award.
This year's other winners are former secretary of state Colin Powell, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, and novelist Amy Tan.
Thorne, who has been a faculty member at the California Institute of Technology since 1966, is currently the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics. The Common Wealth Trust cited him for his longtime efforts toward "opening new windows on the universe for scientists and lay audiences alike."
Thorne is a cofounder of and intellectual force in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), an NSF-funded project to detect gravitational waves and use them to probe the "dark side" of the universe. Gravitational waves were predicted almost 90 years ago by Einstein, but have not yet been detected. They are theorized to come from exotic astrophysical phenomena such as colliding black holes and neutron stars being torn apart by black holes.
LIGO is now a collaboration of 500 scientists in eight nations, headquartered at Caltech and directed by Caltech's Barry Barish and Stan Whitcomb.
Thorne earned his bachelor's degree from Caltech in 1962 and his doctorate in physics from Princeton University in 1965. He returned to his alma mater the following year and quickly rose through the faculty ranks, becoming a full professor of theoretical physics in 1970.
He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972 and the National Academy of Sciences in 1973. He has been awarded the Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society (1996), the Karl Schwarzschild Medal of the German Astronomical Society (1996), the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award in Physics and Astronomy (1969 and 1994), and the Phi Beta Kappa Science Writing Award (1994).
He has been a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, a Danforth Foundation Fellow, a Fulbright Lecturer, and a Guggenheim Fellow, and has served on the International Committee on General Relativity and Gravitation, the Committee on US-USSR Cooperation in Physics, and the National Academy of Sciences' Space Science Board.
The Common Wealth Awards of Distinguished Service were first presented in 1979 by the Common Wealth Trust, created under the will of the late Ralph Hayes, an influential business executive and philanthropist. Hayes conceived the awards to reward and encourage the best of human performance worldwide.
Now in their 26th year, the awards have conferred more than $3.5 million in prize money on 153 honorees of international renown. Past award winners include archbishop and human rights leader Desmond Tutu, the late actor Christopher Reeve, primatologist Jane Goodall, former CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison. In addition to Tutu, Morrison, and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, eight other Nobel laureates have also won the award.
Written by Robert Tindol