Roy Kerr

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Roy Kerr
Roy Kerr with his wife.jpg
Roy Kerr with his wife, 2009
Born (1934-05-16) 16 May 1934 (age 83)
Kurow, New Zealand
Nationality New Zealand
Fields Mathematics
Alma mater
Doctoral students
  • G.C. Debney
  • D. Farnsworth
  • W.D. Halford
  • M. Mezzino
  • G.J. Weir
  • R. Wilson
Known for Kerr metric and Kerr black hole
Notable awards Hector Medal (1982)
Hughes Medal (1984)
Rutherford Medal (Royal Society of New Zealand) (1993)
Albert Einstein Medal (2013)
Crafoord Prize (2016)

Roy Patrick Kerr CNZM FRSNZ (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]

Private life[edit]

Kerr was born in 1934 in Kurow, New Zealand.[2] Born into a dysfunctional family, 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 managed to get into St Andrew's College, a private school, as his father had served under a former headmaster.[3] His solution to Einstein's equations predicted spinning black holes before they were discovered.[4]

Kerr is married to Margaret.[3] In 2013 they moved from Christchurch to Tauranga.

Kerr was a notable bridge player representing New Zealand internationally in the mid 1970s.[5] He was co-author of the Symmetric Relay System, a bidding system.[6]

Professional history[edit]

Kerr's mathematical talent was first recognised while he was still a high school student at St Andrew's College. Although there was no maths teacher there at the time he was able in 1951 to go straight into third year Mathematics at the Canterbury University College of the University of New Zealand, 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. His dissertation concerned the difficult problem of the equations of motion in general relativity.

After a stint as a post-doctoral researcher at Syracuse University, where Einstein's collaborator Peter Bergmann[7][8] was professor, 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 Navy that they could also do pure research."[9]

In 1962 Kerr moved to the University of Texas at Austin, where in 1963, he discovered the Kerr vacuum solution.[10] In 1965, with Alfred Schild, he introduced the concept of Kerr-Schild spacetimes.[11] During his time in Texas, Kerr supervised four PhD students. Kerr was interviewed about his work on the solution for the book Cracking the Einstein Code: Relativity and the Birth of Black Hole Physics, for which he also wrote an afterword.[12]

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.

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

His life was the subject of the semi-biographical book Cracking the Einstein Code by Fulvio Melia, published in 2009.

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.[13]

In December 2015, the University of Canterbury awarded Kerr an honorary Doctor of Science.[14]

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



  1. ^ Cracking the Einstein Code by Fulvio Melia, 2009
  2. ^ J J O'Connor & E F Robertson (July 2009). "Roy Patrick Kerr". University of St Andrews, Scotland. 
  3. ^ a b McCrone, John (2 March 2013). "Bright sparks and black holes". The Press. p. C2. Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers – The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe, Phoenix, 1999, ISBN 0 75381 022 0, page 41
  5. ^ "International record for Roy Kerr". World Bridge Federation. 
  6. ^ Symmetric Relay System at
  7. ^ APS site: Peter Bergmann receives Einstein prize
  8. ^ Obituary of Peter Bergmann
  9. ^ Kerr (2007). "Discovering the Kerr and Kerr-Schild metrics". arXiv:0706.1109Freely accessible [gr-qc]. 
  10. ^ Kerr, R.P., 1963, Physical Review Letters, 11, 237. Bibcode1963PhRvL..11..237K doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.11.237
  11. ^ Tomáš Málek (2014). "Extended Kerr-Schild spacetimes: General properties and some explicit examples". arXiv:1401.1060v2Freely accessible [gr-qc]. 
  12. ^ New Scientist review
  13. ^ Einstein Medal for NZ professor, 20 December 2012
  14. ^ "Two Kiwi greats receive UC Honorary Doctorates" (Press release). University of Canterbury. 10 December 2015. Retrieved 16 December 2015. 


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