Kipfest

Richard Price, University of Utah
rprice@mail.physics.utah.edu
With the development of time machines apparently bogged down, Caltech's Kip Thorne had little alternative but to reach his 60th birthday on June 1, 2000. A large corps of relativity observers were on hand for the occasion to mark the moment, and to prevent Kip from relaxing and enjoying it. A set of Kip's former students organized a three day "KipFest" on June 1 -3 that included two days of scientific talks, a day of popular talks for the public, and a banquet. The scientific talks, presented on June 1 and June 2, were not primarily conference-style reports on scientific news, but rather were talks emphasizing the scope of Kip Thorne's contributions to various branches of relativity and relativistic astrophysics. They included overviews of problems on which Kip had worked and reminiscences about Kip. The full two-day scientific program can be found linked to the KipFest website at http://wugrav.wustl.edu/People/CLIFF/KipFest/kipmain.html The list of topics is striking in its breadth of topics. Kip had been a driving force, or major contributor, to problems ranging from experimental approaches to gravity (e.g., the talks by Rai Weiss and Vladimir Braginsky) to wormholes (Eanna Flanagan's talk) and "real" astrophysics (talks by Roger Blandford and Anna Zytkow). Even with all the memorable moments of the two days, one moment stands out. Jim Hartle related how he had worked with Kip on slowly rotating stars more than 20 years ago, but then was lured away by the siren call of quantum gravity. (Jim suggested that he could be accused of "not having done a lick of honest work since.") The call interrupted work on a final Hartle-Thorne paper that Kip had started and Jim was to finish. The paper had remained unfinished, in the back of Jim's filing cabinet. But only until June 2, when Jim ended his talk by handing Kip the final draft! To honor Kip Thorne's commitment to bringing exotic physics to non-scientists, five talks were presented on Saturday, June 3, by speakers with a gift for communicating the ideas of science. These talks, free to the public, were held in Caltech's Beckman auditorium, and attracted over a thousand listeners. Stephen Hawking and Igor Novikov discussed wormholes and time travel, and Kip Thorne made predictions for what lay ahead in our field in the coming decade or so. There were also two talks not directly dealing with specific scientific questions. The well known science writer Timothy Ferris talked about the problem of communicating science to the public, and Alan Lightman, who is both a scientist and a novelist, gave his insights about the different kinds of creativity involved in his two careers. It is not really possible to describe the banquet on Friday evening. You had to be there. There were a few of the short speeches that one expects, most notably by John Wheeler. But there was a somewhat unexpected reminiscence by football/TV star Merlin Olsen, about the early scientific curiosity of his boyhood friend Kip. (It had to do with frogs, non-relativistic frogs.) Kip's sisters shared other memories of his early days, and Kip did a wonderful job of hiding his discomfiture. Tradition grew yet thinner as Linda Williams, the "Physics Chanteuse," celebrated physics and Kip with music. Undeterred by the high musical standards she had set, the physics singing group "Bernie and the Gravitones" went to the stage to make a rare appearance and to make fools of themselves, an endeavor in which they were judged to have been completely successful. The group was four of Kip's former graduate students (Sandor Kovacs, Richard Price, Bernie Schutz and Cliff Will) singing, in "the average key of B and a quarter flat," about their "Wise Old Advisor from Pasadena" to a Jan and Dean song from 1964. The big finish of the evening was a presentation to Kip of his academic family tree showing how he had populated the field with 42 academic children (PhD's with Kip), how they in turn had produced 70 academic grandchildren, and how they had produced 48 academic great grandchildren. May the numbers continue to grow.