Biography

Sir Roger Penrose is an English mathematical physicist, recreational mathematician and philosopher. He is the Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford, as well as an Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College. 

Penrose is internationally renowned for his scientific work in mathematical physics, in particular for his contributions to general relativity and cosmology. He has received a number of prizes and awards, including the 1988 Wolf Prize for physics, which he shared with Stephen Hawking for their contribution to our understanding of the universe.

Penrose attended University College School and University College, London, where he graduated with a first class degree in mathematics. Penrose earned his PhD at Cambridge (St John's College), writing a thesis on "tensor methods in algebraic geometry" under algebraist and geometer John A. Todd. He devised and popularized the Penrose triangle in the 1950s, describing it as "impossibility in its purest form" and exchanged material with the artist M. C. Escher, whose earlier depictions of impossible objects partly inspired it. Escher's Waterfall, and Ascending and Descending were in turn inspired by Penrose.

In 1965, at Cambridge, Penrose proved that singularities (such as black holes) could be formed from the gravitational collapse of immense, dying stars. This work was extended by Hawking to prove the Penrose–Hawking singularity theorems.

Penrose is well known for his 1974 discovery of 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. Another noteworthy contribution is his invention of spin networks, which later came to form the geometry of spacetime in loop quantum gravity. He was influential in popularizing what are commonly known as Penrose diagrams (causal diagrams).

Penrose is the Francis and Helen Pentz Distinguished (visiting) Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Pennsylvania State University. He is also a member of the Astronomical Review Editorial Board. Penrose has been awarded many prizes for his contributions to science. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. 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. Along with Stephen Hawking, he was awarded the prestigious Wolf Foundation Prize for Physics in 1988. 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 for outstanding work related to the work of Albert Einstein by the Albert Einstein Society. In 1991, he was awarded the Naylor Prize of the London Mathematical Society. From 1992 to 1995 he served as President of the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation. In 1994, Penrose was knighted for services to science. In the same year he was also awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Science) by the University of Bath. In 1998, he was elected Foreign Associate of the United States National Academy of Sciences. 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 2005 Penrose was awarded an honorary doctorate by Warsaw University and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), and in 2006 by the University of York. In 2008 Penrose was awarded the Copley Medal. He is also a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and one of the patrons of the Oxford University Scientific Society. In 2011, Penrose was awarded the Fonseca Prize by the University of Santiago de Compostela. In 2012 Penrose was awarded the Richard R. Ernst Medal by ETH Zürich for his contributions to science and strengthening the connection between science and society.