Born in Logan Utah in 1940, Kip Thorne received his B.S. degree from Caltech in 1962 and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1965. He returned to Caltech as an Associate professor in 1967 and became Professor of Theoretical Physics in 1970, The William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor in 1981, The Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics in 1991, and The Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, in 2009. Thorne’s research has focused on Einstein’s general theory of relativity and on astrophysics, with emphasis on relativistic stars, black holes and especially gravitational waves. He was cofounder (with R. Weiss and R. W. P. Drever) of the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) Project, with which he is still associated.
Thorne was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972, the National Academy of Sciences in 1973, and the Russian Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society in 1999. He has been awarded the Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society, the Karl Schwarzschild Medal of the German Astronomical Society, the Albert Einstein Medal of the Albert Einstein Society in Berne, Switzerland, the UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold Medal from UNESCO, and the Common Wealth Award for Science, and was named California Scientist of the Year in 2004. For his book for nonscientists, Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy (Norton Publishers 1994), Thorne was awarded the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award, the Phi Beta Kappa Science Writing Award, and the (Russian) Priroda Readers’ Choice Award. In 1973 Thorne coauthored the textbook Gravitation, from which most of the present generation of scientists have learned general relativity theory. Fifty-two physicists have received the PhD at Caltech under Thorne’s personal mentorship.
In 2009 Thorne stepped down from his Feynman Professorship at Caltech in order to ramp up a new career in writing, movies and continued scientific research. His current writing focus is a textbook on classical physics coauthored with Roger Blandford; his most recent movie focus was Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (release date November 2014), on which he is executive producer, and with Lynda Obst he coauthored the treatment from which movie grew; his current research is on the nonlinear dynamics of curved spacetime.