Edward Witten

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Edward Witten
Edward Witten.jpg
Born (1951-08-26) August 26, 1951 (age 66)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Residence Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater Brandeis University (B.A.)
Princeton University (PhD)
Known for String theory
Quantum Gravity
Quantum Field Theory
Spouse(s) Chiara Nappi
Awards MacArthur Fellowship (1982)
Dirac Medal (1985)
Albert Einstein Award (1985)
Fields Medal (1990)
Henri Poincaré Prize (2006)
Alan T. Waterman Award (1995)</br>Nemmers Prize (2000)
Henniemen Award (2004)
Harvey Prize (2005)
Crafoord Prize (2008)
Lorentz Medal (2010)
Isaac Newton Medal (2010)
Website http://www.sns.ias.edu/~witten/
Scientific career
Fields Theoretical physics
Superstring Theory
Institutions Institute for Advanced Study
Harvard University
California Institute of Technology
Princeton University
Doctoral advisor David Gross
Doctoral students Jonathan Bagger
Cumrun Vafa
Steven Giddings
Xiao-Gang Wen
Eva Silverstein
Shamit Kachru
Sergei Gukov
Mukund Rangamani
Tamar Friedmann
Peter Srvcek
Christopher Beasley
Dror Bar-Natan

Edward Witten (born August 26, 1951) is an American theoretical physicist with a focus on mathematical physics who is currently a professor of Mathematical Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Witten is a researcher in superstring theory, a theory of quantum gravity, supersymmetric quantum field theories and other areas of mathematical physics.[1]

He has made contributions in mathematics and helped bridge gaps between fundamental physics and various areas of mathematics. In 1990 he was the world's first physicist to be awarded a Fields Medal by the International Union of Mathematics. In 2004, Time magazine stated that Witten was widely thought to be the world's greatest living theoretical physicist.[2]

Birth and education

Witten was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He is the son of Lorraine W. Witten and Louis Witten, a theoretical physicist specializing in gravitation and general relativity.

Witten attended the Park School of Baltimore (class of '68), and received his Bachelor of Arts with a major in history and minor in linguistics from Brandeis University in 1971. He published articles in The New Republic and The Nation. In 1968 Witten published an article in The Nation arguing that the New Left had no strategy. He worked briefly for George McGovern, a Democratic presidential nominee in 1972. McGovern lost the election in a landslide to Richard Nixon.

Witten attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison for one semester as an economics graduate student before dropping out. He returned to academia, enrolling in applied mathematics at Princeton University then shifting departments and receiving a Ph.D. in physics in 1976 under David Gross, the 2004 Nobel laureate in Physics. He held a fellowship at Harvard University (1976–77), was a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows (1977–80), and held a MacArthur Foundation fellowship (1982).


Edward Witten with David Gross and Stephen Hawking.

Witten has made numerous contributions to theoretical physics, in work that has spawned a large number of highly mathematical results. As of August, 2011, he has more than 340 publications primarily in quantum field theory and string theory and in related areas of topology and geometry. In 2004, Time magazine wrote that Witten was "generally considered the greatest theoretical physicist in the world."[2]

One of Witten's contributions in physics is a natural solution to the so-called hierarchy problem. The Standard Model of Particle Physics predicts a particle known as Higgs Boson. Its mass however seems much lighter than what the Model predicts. Witten has shown that the mechanism of broken supersymmetry offers a natural explanation to the hierarchy problem. In supersymmetry theory, the Witten Index tells whether supersymmetry is broken or not. Witten went on to make contributions in supersymmetric gauge theories. Along with Nathan Seiberg of the Institute of Advanced Studies Witten developed what is now known as Seiberg-Witten Theory which is related to Donaldson theory in mathematics.

As early as 1984, Witten worked on an important problem of gravitational anomaly which contributed to what is known as the first string theory revolution. With Gary Horowitz, Philip Candelas and Andy Strominger Witten showed how string theory can lead to realistic descriptions by compactifying the theory on a higher dimensional manifold known as Calabi Yau manifolds. In the string theory conference at University of Southern California in the mid-'90s, Witten solved an outstanding problem of how five different versions of string theory were just the same theory which are related to one another by dualities. Also, Witten conjectured the existence of a unifying theory called M-theory whose complete structures had not been discovered yet and non-technically could be described as what could be possibly the most fundamental physical theory of the universe. Stephen Hawking, in his book The Grand Design, wrote that M-theory may be the ultimate theory of the universe.

Edward Witten's other contribution to physics was to a relatively recent result of gauge gravity duality. In 1997, Juan Maldacena formulated a result establishing a relationship between gauge theories and a certain theory of gravity commonly known as AdS/CFT correspondence. This discovery has dominated theoretical physics for the past 15 years and Witten's work following Maldacena's insight has shed light on this relationship. His other contributions include a simplified proof of the positive energy theorem involving spinors in general relativity, his work relating supersymmetry and Morse theory, his introduction of topological quantum field theory and related work on mirror symmetry, knot theory, twistor theory and D-branes and their intersections.

Witten was awarded the Fields Medal[3][4] by the International Mathematical Union in 1990, becoming the first physicist to win the prize. Sir Michael Atiyah said of Witten, "Although he is definitely a physicist, his command of mathematics is rivaled by few mathematicians... Time and again he has surprised the mathematical community by a brilliant application of physical insight leading to new and deep mathematical theorems... he has made a profound impact on contemporary mathematics. In his hands physics is once again providing a rich source of inspiration and insight in mathematics."[5] One such example of his impact on pure mathematics is his framework for understanding the Jones polynomial using Chern–Simons theory. This had implications for low-dimensional topology and led to quantum invariants such as the Witten–Reshetikhin–Turaev invariants.

Personal life

Witten is married to Chiara Nappi, a professor of physics at Princeton University. They have two daughters, Ilana and Daniela, and one son, Rafael, and a granddaughter Nava. Edward Witten serves on the board of directors of Americans for Peace Now.

Awards and honors

Witten has been honored with numerous awards including a MacArthur Grant (1982), the Fields Medal (1990), the Nemmers Prize in Mathematics (2000), the National Medal of Science[6] (2002), Pythagoras Award[7] (2005), the Henri Poincaré Prize (2006), the Crafoord Prize (2008), the Lorentz Medal (2010) and the Isaac Newton Medal (2010). Pope Benedict XVI appointed Witten as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (2006). He also appeared in the list of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people of 2004.

See also


  1. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  3. "On the work of Edward Witten" (when being awarded the Field's medal)
  4. National Medal of Science Awarded to Institute for Advanced Study Physicist Edward Witten, Institute for Advanced Study announcement, 22 October 2003
  5. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  6. "Edward Witten", The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details.
  7. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.

External links