Extraordinary Conference at UGA: K. Thorne, the Physics Nobel Prize behind Interstellar and the gravitational waves discovery

Kip Thorne, 2017 Physics Nobel Prize winner.

Since 2012 the Université de Grenoble Alpes (UGA) is inviting first class scientists and personalities to expose their work to students of every field and school of the university through ‘’extraordinary conferences’’. As part of the science week 2019, an extraordinary conference was held by Kip Thorne, not only to explain his forty years of research on gravitational waves but also to present a new scientific price: the Cécile DeWitt-Morette award.

As a matter of fact, gravitational waves (GW), space bending and black holes are deeply linked to science fiction with many pieces of art like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stargate, Planet of the Apes or Startrek. These principles has been for a long time considered as ‘’Sci-Fi’’ culture myths, however on 14th of September 2015 gravitational waves were detected on earth for the first time in human history, confirming 50 years of theories and opening a full new display of our universe. These waves, particles moving back and forth, stretching and squeezing the space, aren’t emitting light, electricity nor magnetic fields, making their detection a lifetime challenge. This waves breakthrough has been directly led by K. Thorne, and thereby Cécile DeWitt-Morette.

« Conférences d’exceptions » 2019 at Amphi Weil, UGA .

Even though A. Einstein mentioned gravitational movements’ theory in 1916, it all started few years after World War 2 as Cécile decided to make the old and low french scientific field flourish again. Along with his husband and numerus acquaintances, she created the Ecole de Physique des Houches in the Alpes, a school bringing many scientists together for summer and winter sessions every year in order to discuss world’s future. Kip Thorne attended one of the first session, such as many other future Nobel Prize owner like famous Fermi, Pauli, Dyson, Hawking and many others. Gravitational theories started there, with discussions of the brightest minds of the world, in a tiny house lost in the Haute-Savoie Mountains. Many of these gathering sessions gave birth to highly theoretical and precursor books: Relativity (1963), High energy physics (1966), Black Holes (1972) and Gravitational Radiation (1982). It marked the beginning of the Golden Age of gravitational and quantum research, the 70’s concluding with the prototype of the first Gravitational Interferometer, not working yet.

Despite the lack of concrete observation (mostly due to the wavelength of GW: 10-21m), Les Houches studies convicted the scientific field of the possibility of gravitational movements and waves As much as half a dozen laboratories where built onto kilometres long interferometers (UIRGO Europe, PTA, LISA, Caltech), imagined by the 1980 model of K. Thorne and R. Sacks. All of these leading finally to the first ever gravitational waves detected in 2015.

Gravitional Waves bending space and time around two black holes.

1.3 billion years ago, two black holes circling around, items that aren’t made of matter, went colliding. As black holes are bending space and time around them, their collision created only ‘space-time’ gravitational waves. These waves travelled through space until reaching Earth on 14th September 2015, where the first ever gravitational distortion waves detections has been achieved, confirming all of K. Thorne’s life work. Since then, 10 other events creating gravitational waves have been detected, five of them being Black Hole-Black Hole collision, but also two Black Holes swallowing neutron star, two Black Holes swallowing something identified, and one collision between Neutron Star. This explosion was seen by over 20% of world’s astronomists making it the biggest energy blast calculated since Big Bang and the most observed event in space research history. Even though this explosion is detected due to X-Ray, UV, IR and electrical emissions, we have now found out that gravitational waves are also made in biggest physical explosions.

Recent year’s breakthrough, as well as future year’s science evolution, around black holes, time travel and space bending have been initiated 50 years before by Kip Thorne and many scientist at Les Houches School right in the middle of the Alpes. Today, these subjects are massively developed in the Pop/Sci-fi culture which is inspired by K. Thorne, who directed the scientific part of Interstellar about singularities, birth of galaxies and time travel. The Nolan’s super production is now an iconic movie and continue to show how much Sci-Fi culture is the greatest mean for scientist community to spread cultural knowledge, as much as this culture use them to make people dream.

The Interstellar scientific team has been led by K. Thorne, who created the accurate model giving birth to the famous Black Hole.

For her involve, hard work, brilliant mind and personality, Cécile DeWitt-Morette is now honoured by the ‘’Prix Cécile DeWitt-Morette, Ecole des Houches’’, a freshly new award rewarding a scientist aged less than 55 years old and still researching to promote him and give him visibility. This extraordinary conference has been greeting the first ‘’Prix Cécile DeWitt-Morette, Ecole des Houches’’ nominee: Francesca Ferlaino, from Patrick Levy and Kip Thorne hands.