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Throwback Thursday: Science Edition: Roger Penrose’s black holes and Einstein’s theory of relativity

On today’s Throwback Thursday, you can expect to read about Einstein’s theory of relativity, mathematician Roger Penrose, and a better-late-than-never Nobel Prize! Sound good? Let’s find out more…

The Nobel Prize is a highly esteemed and globally renowned award system known to many. However, there’s an unusual tradition within the rules that keeps competition interesting, which some people aren’t even aware of! The rules state that you must be alive to receive the award, although there is no time limit on when the work that was nominated was carried out. For example, work carried out in the 60s could still win an award in 2020.

Among the 2020 Nobel Prize winners was mathematician Roger Penrose, who won the 2020 prize for Physics. Penrose had actually completed the work in 1965, so perhaps the acknowledgement was a little overdue -- but he got there eventually! His work was an incredible breakthrough and is still integral to our understanding of the universe. Penrose’s black hole modelling provided evidence for Einstein’s early work, his theory of relativity. In other words, this was/is a very big deal.

In the early 20th century, Einstein published his theory of relativity, which ultimately produced a brand-new concept: space-time. This was a ground-breaking theory, introducing us to concepts such as black holes, neutron stars, gravitational waves, and the phenomenon known as time dilation, which simply put is the time change you would experience when under increased gravity.

In 1939, researchers Oppenheimer and Schnider produced a ‘dust cloud’ model, which was supposed to represent a black hole and mathematically prove its existence. Unfortunately, the maths didn’t add up, or more accurately, the mathematics used could only prove a black hole’s existence in conditions that were physically impossible. Einstein’s theory of relativity was still in doubt within the scientific community because of this, as there was simply not enough evidence to back it up. However, jump forward to 1964, when Roger Penrose comes in. Although a fan of the Oppenheimer and Schnider research, Penrose argued that their model was not consistent with our universe, and so set out to find a solution more applicable to our reality.

Penrose was able to build on the Oppenheimer model to prove singularities were possible in all systems, as this was the missing part of the previous research. His addition of a ‘trapped surface’ variable was the key to unlocking whether singularities could exist in both symmetric and asymmetric systems. Finally, Einstein’s theory of relativity and the phenomena of black holes was connected. Penrose had provided evidence for the theory and established its acceptance in the scientific community.

Today scientists are still working on discovering a relationship between the theory of relativity and the physics which occur at a singularity. Some are looking to create a new theory of quantum gravity in hopes of understanding and explaining a singularity. Nevertheless, it is a fact that Penrose’s work was integral to understanding our universe and unlocking some secrets, and Penrose himself was certainly a worthy winner of the Nobel Prize.

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