“Most people think of space as nothingness, the blank void between planets, stars, and galaxies. Kip Thorne, the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech, has spent his life demonstrating otherwise. Space, from his perspective, is the oft-rumpled fabric of the universe. It bends, stretches, and squeezes as objects move through it and can even fold in on itself when faced with the extreme entities known as black holes. He calls this view the ‘warped side of the universe.’
“Strictly speaking, Thorne does not focus on space at all. He thinks instead of space-time, the blending of three spatial dimensions and the dimension of time described by Einstein’s general relativity. Gravity distorts both aspects of space-time, and any dynamic event—the gentle spinning of a planet or the violent colliding of two black holes—sends out ripples of gravitational waves. Measuring the direction and force of these waves could teach us much about their origin, possibly even allowing us to study the explosive beginning of the universe itself. To that end, Thorne has spearheaded the construction of LIGO [Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory], a $365 million gravitational-wave detector located at two sites: Louisiana and Washington State. LIGO’s instruments are designed to detect passing gravitational waves by measuring minuscule expansions and contractions of space-time—warps as little as one-thousandth the diameter of a proton.
“Despite the seriousness of his ideas, Thorne is also famous for placing playful bets with his longtime friend Stephen Hawking on questions about the nature of their favorite subject, black holes. Thorne spoke with DISCOVER about his lifetime pursuit of science, which sometimes borders on sci-fi, and offers a preview of an upcoming collaboration with director Steven Spielberg that will bring aspects of his warped world to the big screen.”
The Man Who Imagined Wormholes and Schooled Hawking. Kip Thorne revolutionized physics, did the science for Contact, and straddled the Cold War divide, by Susan Kruglinski, Discover November 9, 2007
I wonder if it’s too late to become a science groupie?