Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS (born 8 August 1931) is an English mathematical physicist and is renowned for his work in mathematical physics, in particular his contributions to general relativity and cosmology. He is also a recreational mathematician and philosopher.
He reinterpreted general relativity to prove that black holes can form from dying stars. He invented twistor theory—a novel way to look at the structure of space-time—and so led us to a deeper understanding of the nature of gravity. He discovered a remarkable family of geometric forms that came to be known as Penrose tiles. He even moonlighted as a brain researcher, coming up with a provocative theory that consciousness arises from quantum-mechanical processes. And he wrote a series of incredibly readable, best-selling science books to boot.
The recipient of numerous prizes, he is the author of many papers and books, including The Emperor?s New Mind: Concerning computers, minds, and the laws of physics and its sequel Shadows of the Mind: A search for the missing science of consciousness, both of which argued controversially that the known laws of physics cannot explain consciousness; and The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, perhaps the most comprehensive single-volume introduction to fundamental mathematics and physics. In 1965, using topological methods, Roger proved an important theorem which, under conditions which he called the existence of a trapped surface, proved that a singularity must occur in a gravitational collapse. Basically under these conditions space-time cannot be continued and classical general relativity breaks down. Roger looked for a unified theory combining relativity and quantum theory since quantum effects become dominant at the singularity. One of his major breakthroughs was his introduction of twistor theory in an attempt to unite relativity and quantum theory. This is a remarkable mathematical theory combining powerful algebraic and geometric methods.
Penrose Tiles: Penrose received his Ph.D. at Cambridge in algebraic geometry. While there, he began playing around with what appears to be a somewhat frivolous geometrical puzzle. He wanted to cover a flat surface with tiles so that there were no gaps and no overlaps. There are several shapes that will do the job, regular triangles, rectangles, hexagons, and so forth. Or it can be done with combinations of shapes, resulting in a pattern that repeats regularly. Penrose began to work on the problem of whether a set of shapes could be found which would tile a surface but without generating a repeating pattern (known as quasi-symmetry). It turned out this was a problem that couldn't be solved computationally. So, armed with only a notebook and pencil, Penrose set about developing sets of tiles that produce 'quasi-periodic' patterns; at first glance the pattern seems to repeat regularly, but on closer examination you find it is not quite so.
These tiles are particularly intriguing to play with because you have to take into account more than just the tile next door to decide how pieces fit together. Eventually Penrose found a solution to the problem but it required many thousands of different shapes. After years of research and careful study, he successfully reduced the number to six and later down to an incredible two.
While this may all sound rather far removed from life in the real world, it turns out that some chemical substances will form crystals in a quasi-periodic manner. Professor Penrose tells of a striking demonstration of the benefits of pure research - a French company has recently found a very practical application for substances that form these quasi-crystals: they make excellent non-scratch coating for frying pans.
Roger and his father are the creators of the famous Penrose staircase and the impossible triangle known as the tribar. Both of these impossible figures were used in the work of Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher to create structures such as a waterfall where the water appears to flow uphill and a building with an impossible staircase which rises or falls endlessly yet returns to the same level.