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Roy P. Kerr

Roy Kerr with his wife.jpg
Roy Kerr with his wife, 2009
Born (1934-05-16) 16 May 1934 (age 88)
Kurow, New Zealand
NationalityNew Zealand
Education St. Andrew's College, Christchurch
Alma mater
Known for Kerr metric
Kerr–Newman metric
Kerr–Schild perturbations
Awards Hector Medal (1982)
Hughes Medal (1984)
Rutherford Medal (1993)
Albert Einstein Medal (2013)
Crafoord Prize (2016)
Oskar Klein Medal (2020)
Scientific career
Institutions University of Canterbury
Syracuse University
Thesis Equations of Motion in General Relativity (1960)

Roy Patrick Kerr CNZM FRS FRSNZ ( /kɜːr/; born 16 May 1934) is a New Zealand mathematician who discovered the Kerr geometry, an exact solution to the Einstein field equation of general relativity. His solution models the gravitational field outside an uncharged rotating massive object, including a rotating black hole. [1] [2] His solution to Einstein's equations predicted spinning black holes before they were discovered. [3] [4]

Early life and education

Kerr was born in 1934 in Kurow, New Zealand. [5] He was born into a dysfunctional family, and his mother was forced to leave when he was three. When his father went to war, he was sent to a farm. After his father's return from war, they moved to Christchurch. He was accepted to St Andrew's College, a private school, as his father had served under a former headmaster. [6] Kerr's mathematical talent was first recognised while he was still a student at St Andrew's College. Although there was no mathematics teacher there at the time, he was able in 1951 to go straight into the third year of mathematics at Canterbury University College, a constituent of the University of New Zealand and the precursor to the University of Canterbury. 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, where he earned his PhD in 1959. [7] His dissertation concerned the equations of motion in general relativity. [5]

Career and research

After a postdoctoral fellowship at Syracuse University, where Einstein's collaborator Peter Bergmann was a professor, [8] [9] he spent some time working for the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Kerr speculated that the "main reason why the US Air Force had created a General Relativity section was probably to show the U.S. Navy that they could also do pure research." [10]

Work at Texas and Canterbury

In 1962, Kerr joined Alfred Schild and his Relativity Group at the University of Texas at Austin. As Kerr wrote in 2009:

By the summer of 1963, Maarten Schmidt at Caltech had shown that certain starlike objects (now called quasars) were actually distant objects emitting enormous amounts of energy. Nobody understood how they could be so bright. In an effort to unravel this mystery, several hundred astronomers, astrophysicists, and general relativists gathered for a conference in Dallas, held in early December that year. This would be the First (of what since then has become the biennial) Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics. [11]

Kerr presented to the Symposium his solution to the Einstein field equations. [12] S. Chandrasekhar (Nobel laureate, 1983) is quoted as having said :

"In my entire scientific life, extending over forty-five years, the most shattering experience has been the realization that an exact solution of Einstein's equations of general relativity, discovered by the New Zealand mathematician, Roy Kerr, provides the absolutely exact representation of untold numbers of massive black holes that populate the universe" [13]

In 1965, with Alfred Schild, he introduced the concept of Kerr–Schild perturbations and developed the Kerr–Newman metric. [14] [15] [16] During his time in Texas, Kerr supervised four PhD students.

In 1971, Kerr returned to the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. 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.

Awards and honours

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

Fulvio Melia interviewed Kerr about his work on the solution for the book Cracking the Einstein Code: Relativity and the Birth of Black Hole Physics published in 2009. [18] Kerr contributed an "Afterword" of two and a half pages.

In 2012, it was announced that Kerr would be honoured by the Albert Einstein Society in Switzerland with the 2013 Albert Einstein Medal. He is the first New Zealander to receive the prestigious award. [19]

In December 2015, the University of Canterbury awarded Kerr an honorary Doctor of Science. [20]

In May 2016, Kerr was awarded the Crafoord Prize in Astronomy by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Personal life

Kerr is married to Margaret. [6] In 2022, after 9 years in Tauranga they returned to Christchurch, where they now reside. Kerr was a notable bridge player representing New Zealand internationally in the mid-1970s. [21] He was co-author of the Symmetric Relay System, a bidding system in contract bridge. [22]


  1. ^ Kerr, R. P. (1963). "Gravitational field of a spinning mass as an example of algebraically special metrics". Phys. Rev. Lett. 11 (5): 237–238. Bibcode: 1963PhRvL..11..237K. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.11.237.
  2. ^ Cracking the Einstein Code by Fulvio Melia, 2009 ISBN  0226519546
  3. ^ Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers – The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe, Phoenix, 1999, ISBN  0 75381 022 0, page 41
  4. ^ Review of Cracking the Einstein Code
  5. ^ a b O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Roy Kerr", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews
  6. ^ a b McCrone, John (2 March 2013). "Bright sparks and black holes". The Press. p. C2. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  7. ^ Roy Kerr at the Mathematics Genealogy Project Edit this at Wikidata
  8. ^ APS site: Peter Bergmann receives Einstein prize
  9. ^ Obituary of Peter Bergmann
  10. ^ Kerr (2007). "Discovering the Kerr and Kerr–Schild metrics". arXiv: 0706.1109 [ gr-qc].
  11. ^ Roy Kerr (2009) Afterword, page 125 of Cracking the Einstein Code by Fulvio Melia
  12. ^ Kerr, Roy P. (1 September 1963). "Gravitational Field of a Spinning Mass as an Example of Algebraically Special Metrics". Physical Review Letters. American Physical Society (APS). 11 (5): 237–238. Bibcode: 1963PhRvL..11..237K. doi: 10.1103/physrevlett.11.237. ISSN  0031-9007.
  13. ^ New Zealand Mathematical Society Newsletter, No. 58, August 1993
  14. ^ Kerr, R. P. & Schild, A. (1965). "Some algebraically degenerate solutions of Einstein's gravitational field equations". Proc. Symp. Appl. Math. 17: 119.
  15. ^ Debney, G.C.; Kerr, R. P. & Schild, A. (1969). "Solutions of the Einstein and Einstein-Maxwell Equations". J. Math. Phys. 10 (10): 1842. Bibcode: 1969JMP....10.1842D. doi: 10.1063/1.1664769.
  16. ^ Tomáš Málek (2014). "Extended Kerr–Schild spacetimes: General properties and some explicit examples". Classical and Quantum Gravity. 31 (18): 185013. arXiv: 1401.1060. Bibcode: 2014CQGra..31r5013M. doi: 10.1088/0264-9381/31/18/185013. S2CID  118690479.
  17. ^ "New Year honours list 2011". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 2010. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  18. ^ Dan Falk (7 October 2009) Review: Cracking the Einstein Code, New Scientist
  19. ^ Einstein Medal for NZ professor Stuff, 20 December 2012
  20. ^ "Two Kiwi greats receive UC Honorary Doctorates" (Press release). University of Canterbury. 10 December 2015. Retrieved 16 December 2015.
  21. ^ "International record for Roy Kerr". World Bridge Federation.
  22. ^ "Symmetric" by Andrei Sharko

External links