Roger Penrose, the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics Emeritus at Oxford University and an emeritus fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, is widely acclaimed for his original and broadbased work in mathematical physics, particularly his contributions to general relativity theory, the foundations of quantum theory, and cosmology. He also has written on the link between fundamental physics and human consciousness. A graduate of University College, London, where he took first class honors in mathematics, he went on to study at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and was awarded his Ph.D. in algebraic geometry by Cambridge University in 1958. While in his first year as a graduate student, Dr. Penrose rediscovered the generalized inverse of matrices, finding many new applications, and he later made other exceedingly significant contributions to physics and geometry, notably demonstrating in 1965 that, irrespective of symmetry, a massive star collapsing under the force of its own gravity will inevitably be crushed to a singularity, where densities and spacetime curvatures are expected to become infinite—an insight that soon led him and Stephen Hawking to provide theoretical confirmation of a similar status for the Big Bang as a singularity. Two years later, he introduced the “twistor” theory, a proposal for uniting quantum ideas with spacetime structure that takes spacetime points as a secondary notion, built up, in effect, from “light rays,” which has recently found significant application in highenergy physics. His tilings of the plane (he devised “Penrose tiles” whose assembled patterns never repeat however large the area they cover) underlie the newly discovered quasicrystals, whose atoms seemed to be arranged in pentagonal symmetry. Among his notable contributions to cosmology is a model suggesting the geometrical nature of the Big Bang and its fundamental role in the second law of thermodynamics (which says, in effect, that things get more random as time progresses). In his widely discussed book The Emperor’s New Mind (1989), winner of the 1990 Science Book Prize, Dr. Penrose argued that the known laws of physics are inadequate to explain the phenomenon of human consciousness and hinted at the characteristics of a new physics, which he said must provide a bridge between classical and quantum mechanics. He subsequently developed his theories in Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness (1994) and The Large, the Small and the Human Mind (1997) in which he proposes using a noncomputational model for explaining consciousness. After beginning his teaching career as an assistant lecturer in pure mathematics at Bedford College, London, Dr. Penrose was appointed a research fellow at St. John’s College, Cambridge. He subsequently was awarded a NATO Research Fellowship that brought him to the United States for work first at Princeton and then at Syracuse University. Returning to England, he spent two years as a research associate at King’s College, London. In 1963, he accepted a visiting associate professorship at the University of Texas at Austin, and the next year, he was appointed a reader in mathematics at Birkbeck College, London. He was promoted to professor of applied mathematics in 1966, a post he held until being named the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at Oxford seven years later. Dr. Penrose became emeritus in 1998, the year he was appointed to the threeyear post of Gresham Professor of Geometry at Gresham College, London. He has been a guest professor at a wide variety of institutions and remains the Francis and Helen Pentz Distinguished (Visiting) Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Pennsylvania State University and a visiting professor of physics at Queen Mary College, London. A Fellow of the Royal Society, a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the European Academy of Sciences, he was knighted for his services to science by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994 and awarded Britain’s Order of Merit in 2000. Among his other honors are Cambridge University’s Adams Prize, the Dannie Heinemann Prize of the American Physical Society, the Eddington Medal (shared with Stephen Hawking) of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Society’s Royal Medal, Israel’s Wolf Foundation Prize for Physics (shared with Stephen Hawking), the British Institute of Physics’s Dirac Medal and Prize, the Albert Einstein Prize and Medal of the Albert Einstein Society, the London Mathematical Society’s Naylor Prize and its DeMorgan Medal, the first Amaldi Medal presented by the Italian Society for General Relativity and Gravitation, and the Dalton Medal of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. Dr. Penrose holds honorary degrees from fourteen colleges and universities. He has published numerous papers in scientific journals and three technical books. In addition to his books on consciousness, others he has written for more general audiences include one with Stephen Hawking entitled The Nature of Space and Time (1996) that provides a record of a debate between the two scientists at Cambridge’s Isaac Newton Institute of Mathematical Sciences. His most recent book, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (2004), was reissued by Knopf in a paperback edition in January to widespread praise as one of the most important works in modern science writing, a volume that reveals the beauty and subtlety that connects nature and the human imagination.
