Sir Roger Penrose's 2014 USF Lecture

Sir Roger Penrose visited USF on April 7th, 2014, where he delivered the following public lecture to a sold-out theater audience of more than 500 people:

Sir Roger's lecture was delivered at the invitation of his former student, Professor Tristan Needham, and the event was sponsored jointly by the USF Department of Mathematics and by the Office of the Provost [Dr. Jennifer Turpin], with generous logistical assistance from the Provost's Assistant, Claudine Van Delden.

Seeing Through the Big Bang?

During Sir Roger's visit to San Francisco, he was also interviewed on the nationally syndicated radio show, Science Friday. Listen to the podcast of Sir Roger's interview by Ira Flatow.

Sir Roger Penrose is universally recognized for his fundamental contributions to Einstein's curved-spacetime theory of gravity (General Relativity), to cosmology, and also to pure mathematics.

Read more about Sir Roger Penrose

Born in Colchester, England, Penrose attended University College, London, and then went on to obtain his doctorate from Cambridge University.

His work to this point had been in pure mathematics, but, while at Cambridge, Penrose was strongly influenced by Dennis Sciama [the supervisor and mentor of Stephen Hawking] and Penrose then began to make important discoveries in General Relativity. Since the 1930's it had been believed that black holes were a figment of the mathematical imagination: only a perfectly spherical, non-spinning, idealized star could ever collapse to form one.  But in 1965 Penrose shocked the scientific community when he used radically new techniques from differential topology to demonstrate that the death of real stars of sufficiently large mass would inevitably lead to their irreversible collapse, and to the formation of black holes with spacetime singularities at their cores. Penrose's techniques were then extended by renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, their collaboration leading to the discovery of the celebrated Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems.

Penrose's numerous contributions to physics and mathematics cannot be cataloged here, but we shall mention just one other---one that has two San Francisco connections.  In 1974 Penrose discovered what are now known as Penrose Tilings, which are formed from two tiles that can only tile the plane nonperiodically, and are the first tilings to exhibit fivefold rotational symmetry.  In 1984, such patterns were observed in the arrangement of atoms in quasicrystals, for which Daniel Shechtman received the Nobel Prize in 2011.  These Penrose Tiles have, for some time, adorned the main hallway of the international terminal at SFO.  Furthermore, Sir Roger has recently given permission that his tiling be used to sheath a major new civic project in downtown San Francisco: the Transbay Transit Center, scheduled for completion in 2017.

Penrose's books have been New York Times best sellers, including "The Emperor's New Mind" (1989) and "The Road to Reality" (2004), both of which have been translated into numerous languages.  Most recently, his "Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe" (2012) details the radical new theory of the universe that he described in his USF lecture.

Penrose has been awarded many prizes for his contributions to science. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1972.  In 1975, Stephen Hawking and Penrose were jointly awarded the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.  In 1985, he was awarded the Royal Society Royal Medal. Jointly with Stephen Hawking, he was awarded the prestigious Wolf Foundation Prize for Physics in 1988, for the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems.  In 1989 he was awarded the Dirac Medal and Prize of the British Institute of Physics. In 1990 Penrose was awarded the Albert Einstein Medal.  In 1991, he was awarded the Naylor Prize of the London Mathematical Society.  In 1994, Penrose was knighted for services to science.  In 2000 he was appointed to the Order of Merit.  In 2004 he was awarded the De Morgan Medal for his wide and original contributions to mathematical physics.  In 2008 Penrose was awarded the Copley Medal. In 2012, he was awarded the Richard R. Ernst Medal by ETH Zürich.

Currently, he serves as the Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford, as an Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, and, most recently, as a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow (2013-2015).