Roy Kerr

Roy Kerr

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Roy Patrick Kerr CNZM (born 16 May 1934) is a New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 mathematician
Mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....

 who is best known for discovering the Kerr vacuum
Kerr metric
The Kerr metric describes the geometry of empty spacetime around an uncharged axially-symmetric black-hole with an event horizon which is topologically a sphere. The Kerr metric is an exact solution of the Einstein field equations of general relativity; these equations are highly non-linear, which...

, an exact solution
Exact solutions in general relativity
In general relativity, an exact solution is a Lorentzian manifold equipped with certain tensor fields which are taken to model states of ordinary matter, such as a fluid, or classical nongravitational fields such as the electromagnetic field....

 to the Einstein field equation of general relativity
General relativity
General relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...

. His solution models the gravitational field outside an uncharged rotating massive object, including (most famously) a rotating black hole
Rotating black hole
A rotating black hole is a black hole that possesses spin angular momentum.-Types of black holes:There are four known, exact, black hole solutions to Einstein's equations, which describe gravity in General Relativity. Two of these rotate...

.

Professional history


Kerr's mathematical talent was first recognized while he was still a high school student at St Andrew's College, Christchurch
St Andrew's College, Christchurch
St. Andrew's College Christchurch, New Zealand is a private, co-educational school that enrolls from Pre School-Year 13. It was founded in 1917 and it is the only independent, co-educational primary and secondary school in New Zealand's South Island. Although now a fully co-educational school, it...

. Although there was no maths teacher there at the time he was able in 1951 to go straight into third year Mathematics at the Canterbury University College of the University of New Zealand
University of New Zealand
The University of New Zealand was the New Zealand university from 1870 to 1961. It was the sole New Zealand university, having a federal structure embracing several constituent colleges at various locations around New Zealand...

, the precursor to the University of Canterbury
University of Canterbury
The University of Canterbury , New Zealand's second-oldest university, operates its main campus in the suburb of Ilam in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand...

. Their regulations did not permit him to graduate until 1954 and so it was not until September 1955 that he moved to the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1959. His dissertation concerned the difficult problem of the equations of motion in general relativity.

After a stint as a postdoctoral student at Syracuse University
Syracuse University
Syracuse University is a private research university located in Syracuse, New York, United States. Its roots can be traced back to Genesee Wesleyan Seminary, founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1832, which also later founded Genesee College...

, where Einstein's collaborator Peter Bergmann
was professor, he spent some time working for the United States Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is a United States Air Force base in Greene and Montgomery counties in the state of Ohio. It includes both Wright and Patterson Fields, which were originally Wilbur Wright Field and Fairfield Aviation General Supply Depot. Patterson Field is located approximately...

. Kerr speculated that the "main reason why the US Air Force had created a General Relativity section was probably to show the Navy that they could also do pure research."

In 1962 Kerr moved to the University of Texas at Austin
University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin is a state research university located in Austin, Texas, USA, and is the flagship institution of the The University of Texas System. Founded in 1883, its campus is located approximately from the Texas State Capitol in Austin...

, where in 1963, he discovered the Kerr vacuum solution. In 1965, with Alfred Schild
Alfred Schild
Alfred Schild was a leading American physicist, well-known for his contributions to the Golden age of general relativity ....

, he introduced the concept of Kerr-Schild spacetimes. During his time in Texas, Kerr supervised four Ph.D. students. Kerr was interviewed about his work on the solution for the book Cracking the Einstein Code: Relativity and the Birth of Black Hole Physics, for which he also wrote an afterword.

In 1971, Kerr returned to the University of Canterbury
University of Canterbury
The University of Canterbury , New Zealand's second-oldest university, operates its main campus in the suburb of Ilam in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand...

 in New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

, where he remained until his retirement in 1993. Kerr retired from his position as Professor of Mathematics at the University of Canterbury in 1993 after having been there for twenty-two years, including ten years as the head of the Mathematics department.

In 2008 Kerr was appointed to the Yevgeny Lifshitz ICRAnet Chair in Pescara, Italy.

His life was the subject of the semi-biographical book Cracking the Einstein Code by Fulvio Melia
Fulvio Melia
Fulvio Melia is an Italian-American astrophysicist and author. He is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Arizona and Associate Editor of the Astrophysical Journal Letters...

, published in 2009.

Awards

  • Hector Medal
    Hector Memorial Medal
    The Hector Memorial Medal is awarded annually for outstanding contribution to the advancement of the particular branch of science. It is awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand in memory of Sir James Hector...

     (1982) "for his work in theoretical physics. ... an exact solution of Einstein's equations of general relativity, ..."
  • Hughes Medal
    Hughes Medal
    The Hughes Medal is awarded by the Royal Society of London "in recognition of an original discovery in the physical sciences, particularly electricity and magnetism or their applications". Named after David E. Hughes, the medal is awarded with a gift of £1000. The medal was first awarded in 1902 to...

     (1984) "for his distinguished work on relativity, especially for his discovery of the so-called Kerr Black Hole, which has been very influential."
  • Rutherford Medal (1993) "For his outstanding discoveries in the extra-terrestrial world of black holes."
  • Marcel Grossmann Award (2006) "For his fundamental contribution to Einstein's theory of general relativity: ..."
  • Companion of The New Zealand Order of Merit (2011) "For services to astrophysics."

External links