Courtesy of Claude LeBron
Courtesy of Claude LeBron
From Savannah Kuchar 1
Mathematician Roger Penrose recently became one of three Nobel Prize-winning physicists for his work on black holes. Although Penrose is currently an honorary professor of mathematics at Oxford University, he was also a professor of mathematics at Rice from 1983 to 1987.
Penrose received the award for his work in 1965, which “showed that black holes are a direct consequence of the general theory of relativity,” according to the Nobel Prize website. Claude LeBron (Hanszen College ’77), one of Penrose’s former doctoral students at Oxford, said he was excited to learn last Tuesday about this most recent recognition for the work of his dissertation.
“Roger is in his late 80s, but he remains mentally sharp and scientifically active,” LeBrun said. “He always had a different kind of vision – a vivid geometric imagination that underlies most of his mathematical ideas – that has not faded with anything.”
Raymond Wells, an honorary professor of mathematics at Rice for 35 years, knew Penrose before they were both professors at Rice, and continued to work closely with him while Penrose divided his time between Houston and his other role at Oxford. .
“It was a privilege and a pleasure to work with him,” Wells said. “He flew regularly to Houston and would sleep on our couch until we found a temporary apartment for him. He personally inspired me a lot. “
According to Wells, Penrose was an influential figure both for this award-winning work as an expert in the theory of relativity and in many other areas of his research.
“Penrose’s work has been of global significance throughout his career,” Wells said. “While in Rice, he began his research in the field of consciousness and the nature of the human brain. His first book on the subject, The Emperor’s New Mind, was written primarily in Rice. “
Penrose’s theoretical work has helped bring these ideas about black holes from relativity closer to what researchers would expect to actually find, according to Mustafa Amin, an assistant professor in physics and astronomy.
“Penrose’s work in his 1965 report was that it showed that this idea of forming a singularity did not really rely on [the collapsing matter] is exactly the same ball – said Amin. “And that was important because it would be much closer to the realistic situations we’d find in astrophysics.”
Amin said he attributed Penrose’s groundbreaking work to the different perspectives he could take on the subject.
“He was trained as a former mathematician and thought in terms of new and interesting mathematical tools called topology,” Amin said. “So instead of thinking about the problem the way people thought before, he thought about the so-called captured surfaces.”
The Nobel Prize was awarded to Penrose for his work, originally published more than 50 years ago, although, according to LeBrun, Penrose had to first overcome the resistance of many leading astrophysicists at the time.
“I believe that the long delay in awarding the prize is simply due to the very sensible Nobel tradition of recognizing theoretical work only when it is supported by experiment and / or observation,” LeBrun said. “In this case, the other half of the prize went to astronomers Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Gez, who had slowly gathered vast evidence of the existence of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.”
LeBrun, now a professor of mathematics at Stony Brook University, was invited to Oxford to become a student of Penrose in 1977, after graduating from Rice with a master’s degree in mathematics that year.
“Roger has been a huge supporter of my entire math career,” LeBrun said. “I wrote my doctoral dissertation at Oxford in 1980, working on an interface between differential geometry and complex analysis called torsion geometry, building on the ideas that Roger originally made in an attempt to better understand gravitational radiation.
Edison Liang, a professor of astrophysics at Rice, said he met Penrose as a student before spending the summer of 1974 in Oxford, at the invitation of Penrose and Dennis Shiyama, a doctoral adviser to Stephen Hawking.
“[Penrose] impressed me as one of the most creative and profound thinkers. Although his ideas are often difficult to trace, one can still appreciate the depth and meaning of one’s thoughts, “Liang said. “Penrose speaks quietly and has a slightly quiet, reserved, reserved personality. But it has always been receptive and accessible, especially to young scientists. “
Liang said the Nobel Prize was long overdue for Penrose.
“But of course, Penrose had already received so many other awards, it could just be the icing on the cake,” Liang said. “We hope that the Nobel will excite a whole new generation of young scientists to continue in this field.”
Wells said he was very pleased and also not surprised to learn of the Penrose Nobel Prize.
“When he lectured on the main chapters of his book on consciousness, it seemed that the whole Rice came to the lectures, the president, the vice-rector, the deans, as well as many professors and students. “We all felt we were in the presence of something very special,” Wells said.
Penrose is also known to be the eponym of the geometric concept of “Penrose tiling”, an example of which can be found on the outside of the physical hall of Brockman Hall.