Sir Roger Penrose

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Sir Roger Penrose


English Mathematician and Physicist

Sir Roger Penrose, one of the leading mathematicians of the later half of the twentieth century, is perhaps best known for his collaborative work with British physicist Stephen Hawking (1942- ) regarding the calculation and prediction of the fundamental properties associated with black holes. Penrose served on Hawking's Ph.D. thesis committee, authored books with Hawking, and shared the 1988 Wolf Prize for Physics with Hawking for their contributions to theoretical understanding of black holes, singularities, and cosmology. In 1994 Penrose was knighted for his contributions to mathematics and science.

Penrose was born in Colchester, England. He undertook undergraduate studies at University College School, London, and doctoral work in algebraic geometry at Cambridge. Penrose earned a Ph.D. in 1957 and subsequently held a number of academic posts, including a professorship at Oxford. In addition to many honors and awards for a distinguished scholarly career, Penrose, was elected to the Royal Society of London in 1972 and was elected a Foreign Associate of the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1998.

Penrose has made substantial contributions to theories of the very vast and the very small. His work has provided deeper insight into relativity theory, especially general relativity theory, applications of mathematics to physics and cosmology (the study of the origins and nature of the Universe), and to the subatomic world of quantum theory. Penrose and Hawking's efforts toward advancing the theory of general relativity, put forth by Albert Einstein (1879-1955) in the first half of the twentieth century, established the necessity for cosmological singularities (black holes). This insight was a significant contribution toward understanding of the life cycles and deaths of stars, as well as toward models concurring the origin and fate of the Universe.

Working with Hawking, Penrose provided mathematical proof that the matter within a black hole must eventually collapse under gravity into a singularity, a geometric point in space with no size (and hence no volume) where the mass of the black hole is compressed to infinite density. Penrose developed what are know known as Penrose Diagrams that map the spacetime and the gravitational environment surrounding a black hole.

Penrose has also contributed to the advancement of theories of consciousness, quantum cosmology, the development of artificial intelligence, and other topics that explore the nature of physics, knowledge, and reality.

Seemingly far removed from his work in mathematical physics, Penrose's personal interest in tessellation type puzzles lead to important practical discoveries regarding the nature of quasicrystals (crystals that form in a quasi-periodic fashion), subsequently used in industry to provide cookware with protective non-stick coatings. In 1958 Penrose and his father advanced the abstract concept of strange loops with the hypothetical Penrose square stairway, wherein travel in either direction resulted in no net loss or gain in elevation, and another impossible figure known as the tribar. Penrose also developed the concept of what is now known of Penrose tiling (the complete covering without gaps or overlaps of a two-dimensional planar surface with two sizes of rhomboid or pentagon shaped tiles).

The author of a substantial volume of scholarly work, Penrose is also well known for his books designed for the lay audience. In 1989 Penrose's book The Emperor's New Mind moved onto the bestseller lists and earned Penrose wide acclaim and fame outside the scholarly community. Penrose has also authored other well-received books, including Shadows of the Mind (1994) and The Large, the Small and the Human Mind (1997). In 1996 Penrose worked with Hawking to produce another well-regarded book titled The Nature of Space and Time.