Edward Witten (born August 26, 1951) is an American theoretical physicist with a focus on mathematical physics who is a professor of mathematical physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
He has made contributions in mathematics and helped bridge gaps between fundamental physics and other areas of mathematics. In 1990 he became the 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
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.citation needed He worked briefly for George McGovern's presidential campaign. McGovern lost the 1972 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.citation needed He returned to academia, enrolling in applied mathematics at Princeton Universitycitation needed 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).
Witten has made numerous contributions to theoretical physics, in work that has spawned a large number of highly mathematical results. As of August 2011[update], 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 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 for Advanced Study 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 Andrew 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-1990s,4 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. 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.
Another of his contributions to physics was to a result of gauge gravity duality. In 1997, Juan Maldacena formulated a result establishing a relationship between gauge theories and a 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 by the International Mathematical Union in 1990,56 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."7 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.
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.
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 Science8 (2002), Pythagoras Award9 (2005), the Henri Poincaré Prize (2006), the Crafoord Prize (2008), the Lorentz Medal (2010) the Isaac Newton Medal (2010) and the Fundamental Physics Prize (2012). 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.
- Gromov–Witten invariant
- Hořava–Witten domain wall
- M theory
- Seiberg–Witten gauge theory
- Seiberg–Witten invariant
- Vafa–Witten theorem
- Weinberg–Witten theorem
- Wess–Zumino–Witten model
- Witten conjecture
- Witten index
- K. C. Cole (October 18, 1987"A Theory of Everything". The New York Times Magazine.).
- Lemonick, Michael (April 26, 2004). "Edward Witten". Time. Retrieved November 1, 2011.
- The International Who's Who 1992-93, p. 1754.
- University of Southern California , Los Angeles, Future Perspectives in String Theory, March 13-18, 1995, E. Witten: Some problems of strong and weak coupling
- "On the work of Edward Witten" (when being awarded the Field's medal)
- National Medal of Science Awarded to Institute for Advanced Study Physicist Edward Witten, Institute for Advanced Study announcement, 22 October 2003
- Atiyah, Michael (2005). Michael Atiyah: Collected Works: Volume 6. Oxford Science Publications. pp. 209, 212. ISBN 978-0-19-853099-2.
- "Edward Witten", The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details.
- "Il premio Pitagora al fisico teorico Witten". Il Crotonese (in Italian). September 23, 2005 .
- New annual US$3 million Fundamental Physics Prize recognizes transformative advances in the field, FPP, accesed 1 August 2012.
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- Faculty webpage
- Publications on ArXiv
- Witten theme tree on arxiv.org
- Futurama episode information
- O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Edward Witten", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.
- Edward Witten at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
- Institute of Physics profile