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The James Madison Medal

Named for James Madison, Princeton's first graduate alumnus, the Madison Medal was established in 1973 by the Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni (APGA).Upon the recommendation of the APGA Committee on Nominations and Awards and the Madison Medal Selection Committee, this honor is conferred each year on an alumnus or alumna of the Graduate School who has had a distinguished career, advanced the cause of graduate education or achieved a record of outstanding public service.

Kip Thorne *65

2020 Award Recipient: Kip Thorne *65

Thorne, the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, at the California Institute of Technology, joined Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish in winning the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.” As a graduate student in the early 1960s at Princeton, Thorne overlapped with Weiss, who was a postdoctoral researcher at the University.

Thorne was a co-founder, with Weiss and Ronald Drever, of the LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory). On Sept 14, 2015, LIGO picked up a signal of two black holes colliding to merge into one larger black hole — a breakthrough discovery of gravitational waves arriving at Earth from a collision that had happened in the universe 1.3 billion years ago. LIGO has since detected 10 more mergers, including a collision of neutron stars, spawning an entire new field of astronomy.

From 1967 to 2009, Thorne served on the faculty at Caltech, his undergraduate alma mater, and led a research group working on relativistic astrophysics and gravitational physics. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching and is a member of several academies.

Thorne is a co-author with Charles Misner *57 and John Archibald Wheeler, the Joseph Henry Professor of Physics, of the 1973 graduate-level textbook “Gravitation,” which was re-issued by Princeton University Press in 2017. Soon after, the press published the award-winning “Modern Classical Physics,” which Thorne co-authored with Roger Blandford. Thorne also is known for writing for a broader audience and making connections between art and science, including being executive producer of the 2014 film “Interstellar,” for which he offered scientific insights, and followed with the book “The Science of Interstellar.” Thorne came to Princeton in April 2018 to give the 43rd Donald R. Hamilton Lecture and to highlight the history of gravitational research at the University.


We invite you to submit nominations for the Madison Medalist. The committee will meet over the summer and prepare recommendations to the Madison Medal Selection Committee, which will meet in the fall to review all nominations and make the selection.

Previous Award Recipients

View a list of previous recipients of The James Madison Medal.