Edward Witten

Edward Witten

Overview
Edward Witten is an American theoretical physicist with a focus on mathematical physics
Mathematical physics
Mathematical physics refers to development of mathematical methods for application to problems in physics. The Journal of Mathematical Physics defines this area as: "the application of mathematics to problems in physics and the development of mathematical methods suitable for such applications and...

 who is currently a professor
Professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

 of Mathematical Physics
Mathematical physics
Mathematical physics refers to development of mathematical methods for application to problems in physics. The Journal of Mathematical Physics defines this area as: "the application of mathematics to problems in physics and the development of mathematical methods suitable for such applications and...

 at the Institute for Advanced Study
Institute for Advanced Study
The Institute for Advanced Study, located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States, is an independent postgraduate center for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. It was founded in 1930 by Abraham Flexner...

.

Witten is a researcher in superstring theory
Superstring theory
Superstring theory is an attempt to explain all of the particles and fundamental forces of nature in one theory by modelling them as vibrations of tiny supersymmetric strings...

, a theory of quantum gravity
Quantum gravity
Quantum gravity is the field of theoretical physics which attempts to develop scientific models that unify quantum mechanics with general relativity...

, supersymmetric quantum field theories and other areas of mathematical physics.

He has made contributions in mathematics and helped bridge gaps between fundamental physics and various areas of mathematics.
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Encyclopedia
Edward Witten is an American theoretical physicist with a focus on mathematical physics
Mathematical physics
Mathematical physics refers to development of mathematical methods for application to problems in physics. The Journal of Mathematical Physics defines this area as: "the application of mathematics to problems in physics and the development of mathematical methods suitable for such applications and...

 who is currently a professor
Professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

 of Mathematical Physics
Mathematical physics
Mathematical physics refers to development of mathematical methods for application to problems in physics. The Journal of Mathematical Physics defines this area as: "the application of mathematics to problems in physics and the development of mathematical methods suitable for such applications and...

 at the Institute for Advanced Study
Institute for Advanced Study
The Institute for Advanced Study, located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States, is an independent postgraduate center for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. It was founded in 1930 by Abraham Flexner...

.

Witten is a researcher in superstring theory
Superstring theory
Superstring theory is an attempt to explain all of the particles and fundamental forces of nature in one theory by modelling them as vibrations of tiny supersymmetric strings...

, a theory of quantum gravity
Quantum gravity
Quantum gravity is the field of theoretical physics which attempts to develop scientific models that unify quantum mechanics with general relativity...

, supersymmetric quantum field theories and other areas of mathematical physics.

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
Fields Medal
The Fields Medal, officially known as International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, is a prize awarded to two, three, or four mathematicians not over 40 years of age at each International Congress of the International Mathematical Union , a meeting that takes place every four...

 by the International Union of Mathematics. In 2004, Time magazine wrote that Witten was "generally considered the greatest theoretical physicist in the world."

Birth and education


Witten was born in Baltimore, Maryland to a Jewish family, the son of Lorraine W. Witten and Louis Witten
Louis Witten
Louis Witten is an American theoretical physicist and the father of Edward Witten.Witten's research has centered around classical gravitation, including the discovery of certain exact electrovacuum solutions to the Einstein field equation...

, a theoretical physicist specializing in gravitation and general relativity
General relativity
General relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...

.

Witten attended the Park School of Baltimore
Park School of Baltimore
The Park School of Baltimore is a private, co-educational K-12 school located in Brooklandville, Maryland, USA, just north of the city of Baltimore. The campus lies to the south of Old Court Road in Baltimore County...

 (class of '68), and received his Bachelor of Arts
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 with a major in history and minor in linguistics from Brandeis University
Brandeis University
Brandeis University is an American private research university with a liberal arts focus. It is located in the southwestern corner of Waltham, Massachusetts, nine miles west of Boston. The University has an enrollment of approximately 3,200 undergraduate and 2,100 graduate students. In 2011, it...

 in 1971. He published articles in The New Republic
The New Republic
The magazine has also published two articles concerning income inequality, largely criticizing conservative economists for their attempts to deny the existence or negative effect increasing income inequality is having on the United States...

and The Nation
The Nation
The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States. The periodical, devoted to politics and culture, is self-described as "the flagship of the left." Founded on July 6, 1865, It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.The Nation...

. In 1968 Witten published an article in The Nation
The Nation
The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States. The periodical, devoted to politics and culture, is self-described as "the flagship of the left." Founded on July 6, 1865, It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.The Nation...

arguing that the New Left had no strategy. He worked briefly for George McGovern
George McGovern
George Stanley McGovern is an historian, author, and former U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and the Democratic Party nominee in the 1972 presidential election....

, a Democratic presidential nominee in 1972. McGovern lost the election in a landslide to Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

.

Witten attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Wisconsin–Madison
The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a public research university located in Madison, Wisconsin, United States. Founded in 1848, UW–Madison is the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin System. It became a land-grant institution in 1866...

 for one semester as an economics
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 graduate student before dropping out. He returned to academia, enrolling in applied mathematics
Applied mathematics
Applied mathematics is a branch of mathematics that concerns itself with mathematical methods that are typically used in science, engineering, business, and industry. Thus, "applied mathematics" is a mathematical science with specialized knowledge...

 at Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 then shifting departments and receiving a Ph.D.
Ph.D.
A Ph.D. is a Doctor of Philosophy, an academic degree.Ph.D. may also refer to:* Ph.D. , a 1980s British group*Piled Higher and Deeper, a web comic strip*PhD: Phantasy Degree, a Korean comic series* PhD Docbook renderer, an XML renderer...

 in physics in 1976 under David Gross
David Gross
David Jonathan Gross is an American particle physicist and string theorist. Along with Frank Wilczek and David Politzer, he was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of asymptotic freedom. He is currently the director and holder of the Frederick W...

, the 2004 Nobel laureate in Physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

. 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).

Research


Witten has made contributions to theoretical physics
Theoretical physics
Theoretical physics is a branch of physics which employs mathematical models and abstractions of physics to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena...

, 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
Quantum field theory
Quantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and many-body systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...

 and string theory
String theory
String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...

 and in related areas of topology
Topology
Topology is a major area of mathematics concerned with properties that are preserved under continuous deformations of objects, such as deformations that involve stretching, but no tearing or gluing...

 and geometry
Geometry
Geometry arose as the field of knowledge dealing with spatial relationships. Geometry was one of the two fields of pre-modern mathematics, the other being the study of numbers ....

. In 2004, Time magazine wrote that Witten was "generally considered the greatest theoretical physicist in the world."

One of Witten's contributions in physics is a natural solution to the so-called hierarchy problem
Hierarchy problem
In theoretical physics, a hierarchy problem occurs when the fundamental parameters of some Lagrangian are vastly different than the parameters measured by experiment. This can happen because measured parameters are related to the fundamental parameters by a prescription known as renormalization...

. The Standard Model of Particle Physics
Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...

 predicts a particle known as Higgs Boson
Higgs boson
The Higgs boson is a hypothetical massive elementary particle that is predicted to exist by the Standard Model of particle physics. Its existence is postulated as a means of resolving inconsistencies in the Standard Model...

. 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
Nathan Seiberg
Nathan "Nati" Seiberg is an Israeli American theoretical physicist who works on string theory. He was recipient of a 1996 MacArthur Fellowship and the Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics in 1998. He is currently a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, USA...

 of the Institute of Advanced Studies Witten developed what is now known as Seiberg-Witten Theory which is related to Donaldson theory
Donaldson theory
Donaldson theory is the study of smooth 4-manifolds using gauge theory. It was started by Simon Donaldson who proved Donaldson's theorem restricting the possible quadratic forms on the second cohomology group of a compact simply connected 4-manifold....

 in mathematics.

As early as 1984, Witten worked on an important problem of gravitational anomaly
Gravitational anomaly
In theoretical physics, a gravitational anomaly is an example of a gauge anomaly: it is an effect of quantum mechanics–usually a one-loop diagram—that invalidates the general covariance of a theory of general relativity combined with some other fields. The adjective "gravitational" is derived from...

 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
String theory
String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...

 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
University of Southern California
The University of Southern California is a private, not-for-profit, nonsectarian, research university located in Los Angeles, California, United States. USC was founded in 1880, making it California's oldest private research university...

 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
String duality
String duality is a class of symmetries in physics that link different string theories, theories which assume that the fundamental building blocks of the universe are strings instead of point particles....

. Also, Witten conjectured the existence of a unifying theory called M-theory
M-theory
In theoretical physics, M-theory is an extension of string theory in which 11 dimensions are identified. Because the dimensionality exceeds that of superstring theories in 10 dimensions, proponents believe that the 11-dimensional theory unites all five string theories...

 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
Stephen Hawking
Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA is an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity...

, in his book The Grand Design
The Grand Design (book)
The Grand Design is a popular-science book written by physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow and published by Bantam Books in 2010. It argues that invoking God is not necessary to explain the origins of the universe, and that the Big Bang is a consequence of the laws of physics alone...

, 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
AdS/CFT correspondence
In physics, the AdS/CFT correspondence , sometimes called the Maldacena duality, is the conjectured equivalence between a string theory and gravity defined on one space, and a quantum field theory without gravity defined on the conformal boundary of this space, whose dimension is lower by one or more...

. 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
Positive energy theorem
In general relativity, the positive energy theorem states that, assuming the dominant energy condition, the mass of an asymptotically flat spacetime is non-negative; furthermore, the mass is zero only for Minkowski spacetime...

 involving spinors in general relativity, his work relating supersymmetry
Supersymmetry
In particle physics, supersymmetry is a symmetry that relates elementary particles of one spin to other particles that differ by half a unit of spin and are known as superpartners...

 and Morse theory
Morse theory
In differential topology, the techniques of Morse theory give a very direct way of analyzing the topology of a manifold by studying differentiable functions on that manifold. According to the basic insights of Marston Morse, a differentiable function on a manifold will, in a typical case, reflect...

, his introduction of topological quantum field theory
Topological quantum field theory
A topological quantum field theory is a quantum field theory which computes topological invariants....

 and related work on mirror symmetry, knot theory
Knot theory
In topology, knot theory is the study of mathematical knots. While inspired by knots which appear in daily life in shoelaces and rope, a mathematician's knot differs in that the ends are joined together so that it cannot be undone. In precise mathematical language, a knot is an embedding of a...

, twistor theory and D-brane
D-brane
In string theory, D-branes are a class of extended objects upon which open strings can end with Dirichlet boundary conditions, after which they are named. D-branes were discovered by Dai, Leigh and Polchinski, and independently by Hořava in 1989...

s and their intersections.

Witten was awarded the Fields Medal
Fields Medal
The Fields Medal, officially known as International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, is a prize awarded to two, three, or four mathematicians not over 40 years of age at each International Congress of the International Mathematical Union , a meeting that takes place every four...

 by the International Mathematical Union
International Mathematical Union
The International Mathematical Union is an international non-governmental organisation devoted to international cooperation in the field of mathematics across the world. It is a member of the International Council for Science and supports the International Congress of Mathematicians...

 in 1990, becoming the first physicist to win the prize. Sir Michael Atiyah
Michael Atiyah
Sir Michael Francis Atiyah, OM, FRS, FRSE is a British mathematician working in geometry.Atiyah grew up in Sudan and Egypt but spent most of his academic life in the United Kingdom at Oxford and Cambridge, and in the United States at the Institute for Advanced Study...

 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." 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
Low-dimensional topology
In mathematics, low-dimensional topology is the branch of topology that studies manifolds of four or fewer dimensions. Representative topics are the structure theory of 3-manifolds and 4-manifolds, knot theory, and braid groups. It can be regarded as a part of geometric topology.A number of...

 and led to quantum invariant
Quantum invariant
In the mathematical field of knot theory, a quantum invariant of a knot or link is a linear sum of colored Jones polynomial of surgery presentations of the knot complement.-List of invariants:*Finite type invariant*Kontsevich invariant*Kashaev's invariant...

s such as the Witten–Reshetikhin–Turaev invariants.

Personal life


Witten is married to Chiara Nappi
Chiara Nappi
Chiara R. Nappi is an Italian physicist. Her research areas have included mathematical physics, particle physics, and string theory.-Academic career:...

, a professor of physics at Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

. They have two daughters, Ilana and Daniela, and one son, Raphael, and a granddaughter Nava. Edward Witten serves on the board of directors of Americans for Peace Now
Americans for Peace Now
Americans for Peace Now , the United States partner of Israel’s Shalom Achshav organization, is an American coalition working to help Israel achieve a secure peace with the Arab states and the Palestinian people...

.

Awards and honors


Witten has been honored with numerous awards including a MacArthur Grant (1982), the Fields Medal
Fields Medal
The Fields Medal, officially known as International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, is a prize awarded to two, three, or four mathematicians not over 40 years of age at each International Congress of the International Mathematical Union , a meeting that takes place every four...

 (1990), the Nemmers Prize in Mathematics
Nemmers Prize in Mathematics
The Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics is awarded biennially from Northwestern University. It was initially endowed along with a companion prize, the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics, as part of a $14 million donation from the Nemmers brothers. They envisioned creating an award that...

 (2000), the National Medal of Science
National Medal of Science
The National Medal of Science is an honor bestowed by the President of the United States to individuals in science and engineering who have made important contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the fields of behavioral and social sciences, biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and...

 (2002), Pythagoras Award (2005), the Henri Poincaré Prize (2006), the Crafoord Prize
Crafoord Prize
The Crafoord Prize is an annual science prize established in 1980 by Holger Crafoord, a Swedish industrialist, and his wife Anna-Greta Crafoord...

 (2008), the Lorentz Medal
Lorentz Medal
Lorentz Medal is a prize awarded every four years by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. It was established in 1925 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the doctorate of Hendrik Lorentz. This solid gold medal is given for important contributions to theoretical physics, though...

 (2010) and the Isaac Newton Medal
Isaac Newton Medal
The Isaac Newton Medal is a prize awarded annually by the Institute of Physics and is valued at £1000. The award is given to a physicist, regardless of subject area, background or nationality, for outstanding contributions to physics...

 (2010). Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI is the 265th and current Pope, by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, the Sovereign of the Vatican City State and the leader of the Catholic Church as well as the other 22 sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See...

 appointed Witten as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Pontifical Academy of Sciences
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is a scientific academy of the Vatican, founded in 1936 by Pope Pius XI. It is placed under the protection of the reigning Supreme Pontiff. Its aim is to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences and the study of related...

 (2006). He also appeared in the list of TIME
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

magazine's 100 most influential people of 2004.

See also

  • Gromov–Witten invariant
  • Hořava–Witten domain wall
  • M theory
  • Seiberg–Witten gauge theory
  • Seiberg–Witten invariant
    Seiberg–Witten invariant
    In mathematics, Seiberg–Witten invariants are invariants of compact smooth 4-manifolds introduced by , using the Seiberg–Witten theory studied by during their investigations of Seiberg–Witten gauge theory....

  • Vafa–Witten theorem
  • Weinberg–Witten theorem
  • Wess–Zumino–Witten model
  • Witten index

External links