SALT LAKE CITY — Theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, born and raised in Logan, was among three Americans awarded the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for their discovery of four signals of gravitational waves that had been predicted by Albert Einstein nearly a century ago.
California Institute of Technology collaborators Thorne, Barry Barish and Ronald Drever, along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Rainer Weiss, in 2016 confirmed the existence of ripples through space-time triggered by massive gravitational events such as the merging of black holes. Drever was not recognized for his contributions because he died in March, and nominees must be alive at the time of their nomination.
The discoveries by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, collaborators were widely considered the biggest development in physics in 2016, and many observers were surprised the physicists were not awarded the Nobel Prize last year.
An announcement was made early Tuesday at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.
Thorne, 77, graduated from Logan High School in 1958. His parents, D. Wynne Thorne and Alison Thorne, were professors at Utah State University, an agronomist and an economist, respectively.
Thorne was editor of Logan High's yearbook, the "Amphion," and was one of its photographers. His high school class included Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; professional football player, actor and sports announcer Merlin Olsen; and Lee Burke, Logan High's student body president and later assistant to the president of USU.
Thorne, in a recent profile published by the Herald Journal, said when he was 8 years old, his mother took him to a talk by William Peterson, a geologist at USU at the time.
"He talked about the solar system," Thorne told the Logan newspaper. "I was really young to go to this, but she took me, and I became enchanted with the solar system."
Raised in the LDS Church, Thorne considers himself an atheist, according to multiple media reports.
He becomes the second graduate of Logan High School to win the coveted prize. The other was Lars Peter Hansen, a Utah State alumnus who won a share of the Nobel Prize in economics in 2013.
Hansen, along with Eugene F. Fama and Robert J. Shiller, were recognized for their research on how bond, stock and house prices change over time.
After earning an undergraduate degree in mathematics and political science at USU in 1974, Hansen received a doctorate in economics from the University of Minnesota. He taught at Carnegie-Mellon to start, then joined the economics faculty at University of Chicago in 1981.
Thorne left Logan after high school and earned his bachelor of science degree from Caltech in 1962 and his doctorate from Princeton University in 1965.
He returned to California Institute of Technology as an associate professor in 1967 and became professor of theoretical physics in 1970. About a decade later, he was named the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor.
In 1991, Thorne was appointed the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics in 1991. Lastly, he was named the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, in 2009.
According to his biography, Thorne's research has focused on Einstein's general theory of relativity and on astrophysics, with emphasis on relativistic stars, black holes and especially gravitational waves.
Frank Schofield, superintendent of the Logan City School District, said for two Logan High alums to become Nobel laureates "is a good reminder for students across our state that regardless of where you come from, you have the opportunity to accomplish great things if that's what you decide you're going to do.
"Nobody in the rest of the country looks at Logan and says, 'Hey, let's go see what's going to come out of Cache Valley.' But it's the people here and the students here who say, 'You know what? We're going to make some great things come out of Cache Valley' — and they do, whether it's Kip Thorne or Lars Hansen or Merlin Olsen."
Schofield said Thorne and Hansen benefitted from their high school's close proximity to the university. Both had parents who were university faculty so they were exposed to exciting ideas and well-educated people early on in life.
The school district's relationship with the university has resulted in "a long history of really high academic expectations, and that continues," Schofield said.
For example, Logan High's Academic Olympiad team has taken first place six times in the past 10 years at Utah State, he said.
"We have an ongoing tradition because of that connection with the university and the value our community places on education, that our kids perform well. There's an expectation that they'll perform well, and they rise to the challenge," Schofield said.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who was valedictorian of his class at North Cache High School, said he remembers being honored along with Thorne as some of the top achieving students in the area that year.
Hillyard said he believes two factors contributed to two Logan High graduates winning the Nobel Prize. Both men's parents were professors at Utah State, which meant education and academic achievement were high priorities in their respective households.
"I think that academic background and striving for education within the Cache Valley community leads to that," Hillyard said.
Attending a small high school gives students more opportunities for leadership positions and to be part of teams and organizations, something that might not be possible at larger high schools, he said.
Elder Cook, for instance, was senior class president at Logan High, while Burke served as student body president.
"A lot of these kids in the big high schools never get the opportunity of participating in these organizations because of the nature of the big high schools. So I think you learn some self-confidence about things you can do so you’re not so afraid when you have to go away from school rather than live at home and commute back and forth. I think that helps for all kids," Hillyard said.
Thorne left teaching about eight years ago to pursue writing, producing motion pictures and continued scientific research.
He was science adviser and executive producer of the motion picture "Interstellar," which was directed by Christopher Nolan and starred Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain.
The film, which the Internet Movie Database describes as "a team of explorers travel through a wormhole in space in an attempt to ensure humanity's survival," grew out of an analysis co-written in 2005 by Thorne and movie producer Lynda Obst.
His current research is on the nonlinear dynamics of curved space-time.
Thorne has been awarded the Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society; Karl Schwarzschild Medal of the German Astronomical Society; Albert Einstein Medal of the Albert Einstein Society in Berne, Switzerland; UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold Medal; and the Common Wealth Award for Science; and was named California Scientist of the Year in 2004, according to his biography.
He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972. A year later, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences, as well as the American Philosophical Society in 1999, according to his biography.
Thorne's book for nonscientists, "Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy," was awarded the American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award, Phi Beta Kappa Science Writing Award, and Russia's Priroda Readers' Choice Award, his biography states.
In 1973, Thorne co-authored the widely used and well-regarded textbook "Gravitation."
Fifty-two physicists who earned doctorate degrees at Caltech were mentored by him.
Thorne and his first wife, Linda Jean Peterson, married in 1960, had two children, Kares Anne and Bret Carter. The couple divorced in 1977.
Thorne and his current wife, Carolee Joyce Winstein, married in 1984. She is a professor of biokinesiology and physical therapy at the University of Southern California.
Schofield says Thorne's latest accomplishment is "a celebration of a small-town boy made good.
"He grew up in a small mountain valley town in northern Utah and went on to accomplish some phenomenal things."