Leonard Susskind

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Leonard Susskind
Leonard Susskind
Born 1940
South Bronx, New York City, USA
Residence United States
Nationality American
Citizenship United States
Alma mater City College of New York
Cornell University
Known for Holographic principle
String theory landscape
Quark confinement
Hamiltonian lattice gauge theory
Awards American Institute of Physics' Science Writing Award</br>Sakurai Prize (1998)</br>Boris Pregel Award, New York Academy of Science (1975)[1]
Scientific career
Fields Physics, Mathematics
Institutions Yeshiva University
University of Tel Aviv
Stanford University
Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics
Korea Institute for Advanced Study
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Doctoral advisor Peter A. Carruthers

Leonard Susskind (born 1940)[2] is the Felix Bloch Professor of Theoretical Physics at Stanford University, and Director of the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics. His research interests include string theory, quantum field theory, quantum statistical mechanics and quantum cosmology.[1] He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences,[3] and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,[4] an associate member of the faculty of Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics,[5] and a distinguished professor of the Korea Institute for Advanced Study.[6]

Susskind is widely regarded as one of the fathers of string theory,[7] having, with Yoichiro Nambu and Holger Bech Nielsen, independently introduced the idea that particles could in fact be states of excitation of a relativistic string.[8] He was the first to introduce the idea of the string theory landscape in 2003.[9]

In 1997, Susskind was awarded the J.J. Sakurai Prize for his "pioneering contributions to hadronic string models, lattice gauge theories, quantum chromodynamics, and dynamical symmetry breaking." Susskind's hallmark, according to colleagues, has been the application of "brilliant imagination and originality to the theoretical study of the nature of the elementary particles and forces that make up the physical world."[10]

Early life and education

Susskind was born to a poor Jewish family from the South Bronx section of New York City,[11] and now resides in Palo Alto, California. He began working as a plumber at the age of 16, taking over for his father who had become ill.[11] Later, he enrolled in the City College of New York as an engineering student, graduating with a B.S. in physics in 1962.[4] In an interview in the Los Angeles Times, Susskind recalls the moment he discussed with his father this change in career path: "When I told my father I wanted to be a physicist, he said, ‘Hell no, you ain’t going to work in a drug store.’ I said no, not a pharmacist. I said, ‘Like Einstein.’ He poked me in the chest with a piece of plumbing pipe. ‘You ain’t going to be no engineer,’ he said. ‘You’re going to be Einstein.’"[11] Susskind then studied at Cornell University under Peter A. Carruthers where he earned his Ph.D. in 1965. He has been married twice, first in 1960,[4] and has four children.


Susskind was an Assistant Professor of Physics, then an Associate Professor at Yeshiva University (1966–1970), after which he went for a year at the University of Tel Aviv (1971–72), returning to Yeshiva to become a Professor of Physics (1970–1979). Since 1979 he has been Professor of Physics at Stanford University,[12] and since 2000 has held the Felix Bloch Professorship of Physics.

In 2007, Susskind joined the Faculty of Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, as an Associate Member. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was awarded the 1998 Sakurai Prize for theoretical physics. He is also a distinguished professor at Korea Institute for Advanced Study.[13]

Scientific career

Susskind was one of at least three physicists who independently discovered during or around 1970 that the Veneziano dual resonance model of strong interactions could be described by a quantum mechanical model of strings,[14] and was the first to propose the idea of the string theory landscape. Susskind has also made contributions in the following areas of physics:

Development of String Theory

The story goes that "In 1970, a young physicist named Leonard Susskind got stuck in an elevator with Murray Gell-Mann, one of physics' top theoreticians, who asked him what he was working on. Susskind said he was working on a theory that represented particles 'as some kind of elastic string, like a rubber band.' Gell-Mann responded with loud, derisive laughter."[24]


Susskind is the author of two popular science books, The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design[25] published in 2005, and The Black Hole War: My battle with Stephen Hawking to make the world safe for quantum mechanics[26] published in 2008.

The Cosmic Landscape

The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design is Susskind's first popular science book, published by Little, Brown and Company on December 12, 2005.[25] It is Susskind's attempt to bring his idea of the anthropic landscape of string theory to the general public. In the book, Susskind describes how the string theory landscape was an almost inevitable consequence of several factors, one of which was Steven Weinberg's prediction of the cosmological constant in 1987. The question addressed here is why our universe is fine-tuned for our existence. Susskind explains that Weinberg calculated that if the cosmological constant was just a little different, our universe would cease to exist.

The Black Hole War

The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics is Susskind's second popular science book, published by Little, Brown, and Company on July 7, 2008.[26] The book is his most famous work and explains what he thinks would happen to the information and matter stored in a black hole when it evaporates. The book sparked from a debate that started in 1981, when there was a meeting of physicists to try to decode some of the mysteries about how particles of particular elemental compounds function. During this discussion Stephen Hawking stated that the information inside a black hole is lost forever as the black hole evaporates. It took 28 years for Leonard Susskind to formulate his theory that would prove Hawking wrong. He then published his theory in his book, The Black Hole War. Like The Cosmic Landscape, The Black Hole War is aimed at the lay reader. He writes: "The real tools for understanding the quantum universe are abstract mathematics: infinite dimensional Hilbert spaces, projection operators, unitary matrices and a lot of other advanced principles that take a few years to learn. But let's see how we do in just a few pages."


An entire series of courses of lectures on essential theoretical foundations of modern physics by Susskind is available on the iTunes platform from "Stanford on iTunes U" and YouTube from "Stanford University's Channel". These lectures are intended for the general public as well as students. The following courses are available:

Modern Physics: The Theoretical Minimum

Core Sequence

  1. Classical Mechanics (Fall 2007) iTunes YouTube
  2. Quantum Mechanics (Winter 2008) iTunes YouTube
  3. Special Relativity and Classical Field Theory (Spring 2008) iTunes YouTube
  4. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity (Fall 2008) iTunes YouTube
  5. Cosmology (Winter 2009) iTunes YouTube
  6. Statistical Mechanics (Spring 2009) iTunes YouTube

Core Sequence Repeated (In Progress)

  1. Classical Mechanics (Fall 2011) iTunes YouTube
  2. Quantum Mechanics (Winter 2012) iTunes YouTube
  3. Special Relativity and Classical Field Theory (Spring 2012 - in Progress) iTunes YouTube

Other Lectures

  • Particle Physics: 1 Basic Concepts (Fall 2009) iTunes YouTube
  • Particle Physics: 2 Standard Model (Winter 2010) iTunes YouTube
  • Particle Physics: 3 Supersymmetry, Grand Unification, String Theory (Spring 2010) iTunes
  • String Theory and M-Theory (Fall 2010) iTunes YouTube
  • Topics in String Theory (Winter 2011) iTunes YouTube

A separate series of lectures on Quantum Mechanics and Special Relativity

  • Quantum Entanglements Part 1 (Fall 2006) iTunes YouTube
  • Quantum Entanglements Part 2 (Not available online)
  • Quantum Entanglements Part 3 (Spring 2007) iTunes YouTube

(Note that some of the lecture names are a little mixed-up: "Quantum Entanglements Part 3" is in fact a lecture series on special relativity and electromagnetic theory, and the order in which the lectures were given is 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 2&3, 8 and 9 (in terms of the numbers given on the videos). There is no mention of string theory in the series "Supersymmetry, Grand Unification, String Theory", nor of M-theory in "String Theory and M-Theory")

Smolin-Susskind Debate

The Smolin-Susskind debate refers to the series of intense postings in 2004 between Lee Smolin and Susskind, concerning Smolin’s argument that the "Anthropic Principle cannot yield any falsifiable predictions, and therefore cannot be a part of science."[27] It began on July 26, 2004, with Smolin's publication of "Scientific alternatives to the anthropic principle". Smolin e-mailed Susskind asking for a comment. Having not had the chance to read the paper, Susskind requested a summarization of his arguments. Smolin obliged, and on July 28, 2004, Susskind responded, saying that the logic Smolin followed "can lead to ridiculous conclusions".[27] The next day, Smolin responded, saying that "If a large body of our colleagues feels comfortable believing a theory that cannot be proved wrong, then the progress of science could get stuck, leading to a situation in which false, but unfalsifiable theories dominate the attention of our field." This was followed by another paper by Susskind which made a few comments about Smolin's theory of "cosmic natural selection".[28] The Smolin-Susskind debate finally ended with each of them agreeing to write a final letter which would be posted on Edge, with three conditions attached: (1) No more than one letter each; (2) Neither sees the other's letter in advance; (3) No changes after the fact.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  2. His 60th birthday was celebrated with a special symposium at Stanford University on May 20–21, 2000.[1]
  3. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Edge.org Leonard Susskind - A Biography (last accessed August 12, 2007).
  5. [2]
  6. [3]
  7. NYAS Publication A Walk Across the Landscape
  8. [4]
  9. [5]
  10. [6]
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "Leonard Susskind discusses duel with Stephen Hawking", "LA Times", July 26, 2008
  12. http://www.stanford.edu/dept/physics/people/faculty/susskind_leonard.html
  13. Welcome To Kias
  14. String Theory: The Early Years, John H. Schwarz, 2000
  15. L. Susskind, Lattice Models Of Quark Confinement At High Temperature, Phys. Rev. D20 (1979) 2610.
  16. J. Kogut and L. Susskind, Phys. Rev. D 11, 395 (1975).
  17. Review of Particle Physics, (W.-M. Yao et al., J. Phys. G 33, 1 (2006)) Dynamical Electroweak Symmetry Breaking section cites two 1979 publications, one by Steven Weinberg, the other by L. Susskind to represent the earliest models with technicolor and technifermions.[7]
  18. Biography at APS J. J. Sakurai Prize website (last accessed August 12, 2007)
  19. L. Susskind, RU-93-44, hep-th/9309145.
  20. L. Susskind, Phys. Rev. Lett. 71, 2368 (1993). String theory and the principle of black hole complementarity
  21. "The insistence on unitarity in the presence of black holes led 't Hooft (1993) and Susskind (1995b) to embrace a more radical, holographic interpretation of ..." - The Holographic Principle, Raphael Bousso, Rev. Mod. Phys. 74 (2002) 825-874. [8]
  22. T. Banks, W. Fischler, S. H. Shenker, and L. Susskind, M Theory as a Matrix Model: A Conjecture, Phys. Rev. D55 (1997) 5112–5128, hep-th/9610043.
  23. L. Susskind, arXiv:hep-th/0302219
  24. [9]
  25. 25.0 25.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable. [10]
  27. 27.0 27.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1 at line 746: Argument map not defined for this variable.
  28. http://cohesion.rice.edu/CampusServices/OWeek/emplibrary/letterfromleonardsusskind.pdf

Further reading

  • Chown, Marcus, "Our world may be a giant hologram", New Scientist, 15 January 2009, magazine issue 2691. "The holograms you find on credit cards and banknotes are etched on two-dimensional plastic films. When light bounces off them, it recreates the appearance of a 3D image. In the 1990s physicists Leonard Susskind and Nobel prizewinner Gerard 't Hooft suggested that the same principle might apply to the universe as a whole. Our everyday experience might itself be a holographic projection of physical processes that take place on a distant, 2D surface."

External links