UT Center for Relativity, April 1978
(L to R)
Back Row: Paul Gleichauf, Charles Hart, Bryce DeWitt, Jim Fitzwilliam, Jon Pfautsch (hidden), John Miller
Fourth Row: Judi Taylor-Williams, Rich Guy (black t-shirt), Nelson Zamorano, Frank Handler, Tsvi Piran, Gary Sammelmann, Philip Candelas
Third Row: Lester Clendenning, Larry Shepley, Benny Sheeks, David Deutsch (hidden), Jorge Bellet
Second Row: Richard Matzner, Mauro Francaviglia, Joyce Patton, Paul Davies, Cécille DeWitt-Morette, Murray Cantor
Front Row: Susan Chandler, Tony Rothman, Amir Najmi, John Futterman, Martin Duncan, Bruce Nelson
The Center for Relativity began in 1962, under the direction of Alfred Schild. New Chair Harold Hanson conceived the idea of forming, within the Physics Department,centers of excellence. Schild had recently moved from the Department of Mathematics and was quick to embrace the idea and renamed his group The Center for Relativity. The Charter of the Center for Relativity was to discover and describe the behavior of gravitation, a fundamental force that plays its most important roles on very large scales (cosmology) and the very smallest scales (quantum gravity on microscopic fractions of the atomic scales).
From its inception the Center for Relativity has contributed strongly to its science. In 1963, while Roy Kerr was Alfred Schild's postdoc in the Center for Relativity at Texas, he discovered the most important stationary gravitational configuration known, the “Kerr Solution,” which describes a spinning black hole, and which has demonstrated a boundless domain of applicability in astrophysics. Other early members included Roger Penrose, later Sir Roger and Chair-holder-emeritus in the Mathematical Institute at Oxford; Jurgen Ehlers, later Director of the "Einstein" Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany; Engleburt Schucking, now Professor of Physics Emeritus at NYU; Rainer K. "Ray" Sachs, now Professor of Mathematics Emeritus at UC Berkley; Robert Geroch, Professor of Physics at Chicago.
In 2020, Roger Penrose won the Nobel Prize in Physics "for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity."During 1963-1964, Penrose was a visiting associate professor in the Department of Physics and the Center for Relativity. Here is a little history associated with that visit from a tribute to Schucking by Penrose. "In a podcast, Penrose describes the motivation behind his discovery of twistors, and the history of exactly how this discovery came about. He was a visitor in 1963 at the University of Texas in Austin, with an office next door to Engelbert Schucking, who among other things had explained to him the importance in quantum theory of the positive/negative energy decomposition of the space of solutions to field equations. After the Kennedy assassination, he and others made a plan to get together with colleagues from Dallas, taking a trip to San Antonio and the coast. Penrose was being driven back from San Antonio to Austin by Istvan Ozsvath (father of Peter Ozsvath, at Columbia), and it turned out that Istvan was not at all talkative. This gave Penrose time alone to think, and it was during this trip he had the crucial idea." There was a paper, "A Remarkable Property of Plane Waves in General Relativity" by Penrose published in 1965 which must have included work at Texas. It was in the Rev. Mod. Phys. 37, 215 – Published 1 January 1965, the affiliation was The University of Texas. There is another paper that suggests his work here was related to the singularity work. R. Penrose, “Gravitational Collapse and Space-Time Singularities,” Physical Review Letters, vol. 14, pg. 57 (1965). The affiliation: Roger Penrose Department of Mathematics, Birkbeck College, London, England (Received 18 December 1964). However the Dec 1964 date of submission would strongly suggest that some of that work was done at Texas.. In a 2020 interview, following announcement of the Nobel Prize, he says he got the central idea after returning to Oxford.
Roger Penrose, second from the left, back row, Ray Sachs, 4th from left, backrow. !964 Physics Faculty. For identifications see Physics Faculty 1964.
In 1972, Bryce DeWitt, Professor of Physics, (now deceased) and Cécile DeWitt-Morette (then Professor of Astronomy, now deceased) joined the faculty, which then consisted of Alfred Schild, Lawrence C. Shepley, and Richard Matzner. Bryce was appointed Director.
Bryce Dewitt covered all bases: he made essential contributions to the study of quantum gravity; these efforts had a dramatic effect on the flowering of Quantum Gravity research in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1973, Bryce Dewitt co-led the last optical observation of the deflection of light by the sun. This was accomplished during a total solar eclipse, observed from western Africa, the oasis Chinguetti, in Mauritania. In June of that year, Bryce DeWitt, Cécile DeWitt-Morette, and Richard Matzner participated with others in an expedition to Mauritania to photograph the total eclipse of the sun. This observation turned out to produce a quite accurate (~10%) determination of the deflection of light by the sun, arguably the most accurate photographic determination of this phenomenon ever. (Radio astronomy observations are now much more accurate, at the tenths of a percent level.)
A different direction of Bryce Dewitt's leadership guided Larry Smarr, at right with Bryce, to carry out the first successful computational simulation of colliding black holes. This effort laid the foundation for all computational black hole simulations and for the ultimate prediction of gravitational waveforms from such encounters. Smarr later became Director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, and today he is Director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, a UC San Diego/UC partnership, and holder of the Harry E. Gruber Professorship in Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD’s Jacobs School.
Bryce Dewitt won the Dirac medal in 1987. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences from 1990. He authored two of the really significant books in mathematical physics: Supermanifolds, (1984), second edition, (1992); Dynamical Theory of Groups and Fields, (l965). He edited, with C. Dewitt-Morette: Relativity, Groups and Topology (1964); Black Holes, (1972).
More on Bryce Dewitt...
Professor Cécile Dewitt-Morette developed the mathematics of path integration, a representation of quantum mechanics which applies directly to nonlinear physics (like quantized gravity). Professor Cécile DeWitt-Morette holds two knighthoods for her lifelong work in theoretical and mathematical physics: Chevalier d l‚’Ordre National du Mérite (1981) and Chevalier dans l`Ordre des Palmes Academiques (1991). She also holds the Prix du Rayonnement Francais (1992). She was the organizer of the very prestigious international Les Houches Schools in Physics, which began in 1951. She has edited (sometimes with co-editors) twenty-three of the Lecture Volumes from the School, including the two mentioned above, edited with B. DeWitt, and New Stochastic Methods In Physics, edited with K. D. Elworthy. She has published three books: L’energie Atomique (1946); Particules Elémentaires (1951); and Analysis, Manifolds, and Physics (with Choquet-Bruhat and Dillard, 1977). Revisions/extensions of the last have been: Analysis, Manifolds, and Physics, revised (with Choquet-Bruhat, 1982) and Analysis, Manifolds, and Physics, part II, 92 Applications (with Choquet-Bruhat, 1989).
At the request of the French Scientific Attaché, Cécile Dewitt-Morette is now (Spring 2011) collaborating in the creation of The Foundation France-Texas. A preliminary step has been taken with a UTeach request by Michael Marder for support of an exchange program between Austin and Grenoble involving National Instruments. Pending the official creation of the Foundation, a small grant has been awarded to the UTeach project. Together with other small projects being completed, it will serve to prime the financial flow of the Foundation.
Larry Shepley, shown at right in Antarctica in 2001, coauthored a text on homogeneous anisotropic cosmology that has become a standard reference in studies of quantum cosmology. He continues work in cosmology; his most recent work is Hamiltonian Dynamics of Spatially-homogeneous Vlasov-Einstein Systems (with Okabe, Morrison, and Friedrichsen). Shepley retired in 1995, but for a number of years remained active in minority issues and particularly in the training of graduate students in the Department of Physics.
From 1976 to 1980, Professor Dennis Sciama was a member of the Center. Sciama later served as Director of the Astrophysics Group at the Italian School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste, Italy and as visiting professor at Oxford. Sciama was a frequent visitor to the Center for Relativity until his death in 1999. In 1976, Philip Candelas, one of Sciama’s students joined the Center as a Research Associate. He was appointed to the faculty the next year and rose to full professor in 1989. His interest included Quantum Gravity, Field Theory and String Theory. In 1999, he became Rouse-Ball Professor of Mathematics at University of Oxford.
Photo of Philip Candelas at left.
Richard A. Matzner was appointed director in 1987. Matzner's broad interests included theoretical cosmology and its observational implications, and the challenges to theory from the observations; space-borne experiments to observe aspects of the gravitational field and its theoretical description; gravitational-wave detection, theoretical and computational modeling of strong-gravity astrophysical sources of gravitational radiation of neutrino and of electromagnetic radiation, and computational physics in general. The Center for Relativy was dissolved in Fall 2014.
Matzner is a member of the LIGO-Virgo Collaboration (an experiment to use ground based detectors for direct observation of gravitational radiation -- none detected yet), and also participates in the LARES experiment to observe the dragging of inertial frames due to the rotating earth, and in a space-borne experiment to evaluate the use of X-ray pulsars for deep space navigation. LIGO/Virgo, and its proposed space-borne partner LISA, will demonstrate and initiate a new window on astronomy, and will reach cosmological distances (hundreds of Megaparsecs for LIGO/Virgo, multiple Gigaparsecs for LISA) to study the earliest history of galaxies and stars. Matzner is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. His international involvement includes foreign membership of the Academy of Sciences of Turin, one of the oldest and most prestigious scientific societies. He has served on national and international review committees (DOE Chicago‚–ASCI 1998 review chairman, Scientific Advisory Board [Fachbeirat] at the Max-Planck Institut für Gravitationsphysik, Potsdam 1996-2002), on National Academy of Science panels, on the LIGO Program Advisory Committee, (PAC, LIGO's external review committee) including PAC Chair in 2003-2004, and on organizing committees for international conferences.
In 1976, Professor John Wheeler, at left, left Princeton U., and was appointed director of a new UT Center for Theoretical Physics. He brought Claudio Teitelboim to join his center and added Phillip Candelas. Wheeler interactied with faculty and students in the Relativity Center, though he never joined it. Upon his retirement from UT in 1986, Wheeler was appointed an Emeritus Professor. Wheeler was active in all aspects of gravitational theory, and in the fundamental understanding of the quantum measurement process until his death in 2008. In May -- June 2006, I. Ciufolini and Richard Matzner co-organized a School entitled General Relativity and John Archibald Wheeler" at Erice Italy, and produced a companion volume detailing Wheeler's contribution to experimental and astrophysical relativity. For more on Wheeler ...
In 1991, Matthew Choptuik, at right, joined the Center as a post-doctoral student. His interest was computation relativity. From 1992-95 he was a Research Associate and in 1995 he was appointed Associate Professor of Physics. In 1997 Choptuik won the Xanthopolous International Award for Research in Gravitational Physics for his dramatic work on critical behavior in gravitational collapse. Choptuik demonstrated also a remarkable rapport with students and had very high ratings in his teaching. He was a member of the Editorial Board of Classical and Quantum Gravity and an extremely widely sought-after speaker at national and international meetings.
In the summer of 1999, Professor Choptuik was strongly recruited by the University of British Columbia. Despite support from the Department of Physics and the Dean of the College in a very attractive counter-offer, Professor Choptuik accepted a position at UBC beginning Fall 1999. Professsor Choptuik remained involved in the Center after taking up the post at UBC (through a zero-time appointment and an Adjunct Professorship). Nonetheless, this loss occurred at a very sensitive time for the Center with two distinguished members, Professor Bryce DeWitt and Professor Cécile Dewitt-Morette, approaching the last year (1999-2000) of their three-year phased retirement. Bryce Dewitt died in 2004.
In 1993, based on previous collaborations, the Center organized the NSF-funded Binary Black Hole Grand Challenge Alliance. Through the Center for Relativity, the University of Texas at Austin was the lead institution, subcontracting to seven other universities (Illinois, Northwestern, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Cornell, North Carolina, Penn State). The current Center director, Richard Matzner, was the lead PI of the NSF-funded project ($3.762 M over five years beginning in September 1993).
There is no question that innovative and outstanding research made the Center for Relativity one of the stellar centers of research at Texas. By the year 2000 the Center stood in a world class challenged by only a few centers at other institutions. During this period the center included typically three postdocs at any one time.
After a decade of attrition, today (Spring 2011), the Center for Relativity consists of only one non-retired Professor (Matzner) and two retired faculty (C. Dewitt-Morette and L. Shepley) together with students (mostly, but not exclusively, Matzner's). Cécile Dewitt-Morette retired in 2000 but remains very active; she is currently directing the research of a PhD student, and an informal network of several PhDs from the Austin area. The Center for Relativity faculty are, in fact, faculty in the Department of Physics. The last relativist hired in Physics was Matthew Choptuik.
For about the past decade the Physics Department has had a priority of hiring in Cosmology. Matzner has published substantially in areas of cosmology, including the very early universe, higher dimensional theories and very early cosmology, inhomogeneous impediments to inflation, the quark-hadron transition and its observationally allowed inhomogeneity, cosmic nucleosynthesis, and the anisotropy of the microwave background, LIGO/Virgo and LISA as noted above. For a variety of reasons this effort has proven unsuccessful. In 2011, a renewed effort was launched.
The Center for Relativity was a dynamic entity, with frequent publications and continuing education of PhDs with interesting dissertations. However the Center very much needed new faculy in its area. This was necessary to supports the idea that relativistic cosmology and astrophysics be represented at the University of Texas. The LIGO and Virgo detectors were being upgraded to their ultimate sensitivity. When their estimated rates of detections (signals from mergers involving neutron stars and/or black holes) are in the 1/week to 1/month range, dramatic new insights will be exposed. The Center for Relativity will be part of this discovery and the exploitation of this discovery, but theoretical insights and interpretations demand a community of collaborators. Hopefully a new faculty member familiar with the field of gravitational radiation will contribute strongly to the interpretation and understanding of this new and potentially very important view on the universe.
Around 2015, the Center for Relativity was effectively absorbed into the theory group when Richard Matzner became a theory group member. However, in 2019 a new Center for Gravitational Physics was established, with Dierdre Shoemaker as director, and Aaron Zimmerman, Pablo Laguna and Richard Matzner as faculty members
In 1979, a movie entitled "Einstein's Universe" was filmed at the McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis, TX. Along with the principal character, Peter Ustinov and film writer, Nigel Calder, were scientists who had been in the Center for Relativity: John A. Wheeler, Dennis Sciama and Roger Penrose. The DVD is available for purchases and at the time of this writing, 2020, was availble for viewing on Amazon Prime Video. A few frames from the movie are below: Left to Right: John Wheeler & Peter Ustinov; John Wheeler, Peter Ustinov, Dennis Sciama; Roger Penrose; Dennis Sciama, Nigel Calder, John Wheeler. The movie has nice footage of the McDonald Observatory.
Center for Relativity Photo Album
Photo Study of Eugene Wigner
The Second Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics Conference
Fourth Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics, Dallas, Texas, December 16–20, 1968