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Penn State Visiting Professor Awarded Nobel Prize In Physics

Sir Roger Penrose, a notable Penn State Eberly College of Science visiting faculty member, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, the university announced last week.

Penrose has “long-standing ties” to the college, as he was the Francis R. and Helen M. Pentz visiting Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Penn State from 1993 to 2012. He is currently a visiting research faculty and member of the advisory board of Penn State’s Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos. Penrose is also the emeritus Rouse Ball professor of mathematics at Oxford University in England.

Penrose was awarded half of the Nobel for proving that black holes must exist if Einstein’s seminal Theory of General Relativity is correct. The other half of the award was split between Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.

His connection to Penn State began after Abhay Ashtekar, Evan Pugh Professor of Physics at Penn State and director of the Institute for Gravitation & the Cosmos, ended up at Penn State. Ashtekar, a leading black hole theorist, did a postdoc fellowship at Oxford with Penrose, which initiated the first visit. Penrose visited for years and was in residence at Penn State for six to eight weeks each semester.

“He has given innumerable seminars to us, discussions late into the night,” Ashtekar said. “It has been really wonderful for all of us, from students to the most senior faculty. Students just loved his talks, in part because of his intellectual breadth.”

Ashtekard explained that black holes are predicted by general relativity, but many scientists were skeptical about the mathematics, including Einstein himself.

Penrose’s discoveries led to the conclusion that the formation of black holes in nature was inevitable. The other two winners provided him the confirming observations.

“In addition to the enormous impact on the intellectual life of our department, Sir Roger’s visiting professorship created a memorable experience for our undergraduate students,” Nitin Samarth, Physics department head, said. “I recall that during his first visits, Sir Roger resided in a faculty suite in Atherton Hall and interacted daily with the resident honors students. I can only imagine the impact of the stimulating conversations that ensued!”

Besides his work on gravitational theory, Penrose is known for the discovery of non-repeating tiles, a major advance in abstract mathematics, and for his popular books on the nature of consciousness.  

“Today Penn State is extremely proud of Roger Penrose, especially in light of his long-standing ties to our Institute for Gravitation & the Cosmos, where he has been invaluable to our efforts pushing the boundaries of physics,” Tracy Langkilde, Eberly College of Science dean, said. “The announcement of Sir Roger’s Nobel Prize is a well-deserved credit to his lifetime of scientific discovery and scholarship.”

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About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a washed-up biology grad and former associate editor. Her legacy will live on through stories like “10 Questions With State College Sensation ‘Hot UPS Bae’”. If you’re a STEM girlie, this is your sign to take the leap of faith and learn to write. It’s pretty fun. Colleen misses the hate mail and can be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

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