Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Kiwi scientist receives prestigious award

Emeritus Professor Roy Kerr has just been awarded the University of Canterbury's rare honour of Canterbury Distinguished Professor. Photo / John Borren
Emeritus Professor Roy Kerr has just been awarded the University of Canterbury's rare honour of Canterbury Distinguished Professor. Photo / John Borren

The internationally-renowned Kiwi scientist who is this month to receive the prestigious Crafoord Prize has also just been awarded the University of Canterbury's rare honour of Canterbury Distinguished Professor.

The academic title awarded to Emeritus Professor Roy Kerr is the highest that can be awarded by the university's council and has been conferred just twice in its near 150-year history.

The new appointment also makes Professor Kerr the only Canterbury Distinguished Professor in New Zealand.

Professor Kerr, 81, is widely known for his detailed work on black holes and the significant contribution it has made to the field of general relativistic astrophysics.

"He has made other important contributions to general relativity theory but the discovery of the Kerr black hole was so extraordinary that it is comparable to the discovery of a new elementary particle," said University of Canterbury Chancellor Dr John Wood.

One of the world's foremost theoretical physicists famous for his work on black holes, Stephen Hawking, noted Kerr's discovery in his celebrated book, A Brief History of Time.

Much of the work under-pinning the recent discovery of so-called "gravitational waves" could also be traced back to his seminal theoretical work more than 50 years ago.

The team of of physicists that confirmed the existence of gravitational waves -- ripples thorough our universe that have only been theorised until now -- concluded that they were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole.

This collision of two black holes had been predicted by Professor Kerr but had never observed.

Professor Kerr, who now lives in rural Bay of Plenty, retired as Professor of Mathematics at the University of Canterbury in 1993 after 22 years, including a decade as the head of the university's mathematics department.

At its December 2015 graduation ceremonies, the university conferred a Doctor of Science (honoris causa) on Professor Kerr.

The Crafoord Prize award ceremony will be held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on May 26, in the presence of HM King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, and will be webcast live.

The honour comes after Professor Kerr became the first New Zealander to receive the Einstein Medal, in 2012.

- NZ Herald

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