Thorne has won many awards over the years—including the 1996 Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society, the 2004 California Scientist of the Year, and a 2010 UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold Medal—in recognition of his contributions to the current understanding of black holes and gravitational waves. The Jackson Award recognizes another aspect of his career: his contributions as a teacher and mentor.
Thorne has been recognized previously for the role he has played in the education of young scientists—in 2000, he won an ASCIT (Associated Students of Caltech) award for his teaching of undergraduates, and in 2004, he was honored with the Caltech Graduate Student Council Mentoring Award.
According to a statement prepared by the AAPT, "Thorne has been mentor and thesis advisor for more than 50 Ph.D. physicists who have gone on to become world leaders in their chosen fields of research and teaching. A list of current leaders in relativity, gravitational waves, relativistic astrophysics, and even quantum information theory, would be heavily populated by former graduate students of Kip Thorne, together with other students who took his courses and were inspired and enabled by them."
For his part, Thorne says, "More than anything else, the thing that kept me at Caltech throughout my career was our superb graduate students and postdocs. I have learned more from them over the years than they have learned from me. I am grateful to them for the role they played in nominating me for this award."