Gluck Endows Chair in Theoretical Physics for Institute Director

Sunday, December 1, 2002

David Gross Assumes the Frederick W. Gluck Professorship

Santa Barbara, Calif.--Fred Gluck, best known for his legendary performance at the helm of the leading international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, has given $1 million to endow the chair of the director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). David Gross, who came from Princeton University in 1997 to serve as director of the Institute, is the first Frederick W. Gluck Professor of Theoretical Physics.

Gross is best known for figuring out how the nucleus of atoms works and thereby solving the last great remaining problem of what has since come to be called "the Standard Model" of particle physics--the quantum mechanical picture of reality.

How Strong Force Works

In 1973 Gross and his graduate student Frank Wilczek (now an MIT professor) made the key discovery of how the "strong" force works that binds the constituent elements, called quarks, of protons and neutrons (the particles that make up the nucleus of atoms). The other three forces of nature--electromagnetism, the weak force (responsible for radioactive decay), and gravity all diminish in strength with distance. Gross and Wilczek discovered that the strong force grows stronger with distance (This discovery is called "asymptotic freedom," which means the force grows weaker at short distances). Therefore, attempts to pull the quarks inside protons and neutrons apart increase the strength of the force binding them. So protons and neutrons can't be dismantled into constituent quarks. This part of the Gross-Wilczek discovery is called "confinement."

By the time Gross arrived 24 years later in Santa Barbara, research at the edge of physical reality had turned from looking at the fundamental constituents of matter and energy not as pointlike particles but as vibrating strings. In this view the quark and the particle of light, the photon, are really very, very small string-loops. The different vibrations of the same fundamental constituent--the string--give rise to all the various and seemingly quite different particles.

Back in the mid '80s when "string theory" became the rage among Princeton particle physicists, Gross and his other famous graduate student, Ed Witten, now at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, each headed up two coordinated seminal investigations. Each combined the efforts of three other physicists, and together they became known as the Princeton "string quartets." The Gross quartet discovered the heterotic string, and Witten's worked on the mathematics of "compactification," whereby the "extra" dimensions required by string theory are "curled up" inside strings.

We are used to three spatial dimensions and one time dimension. But string theory requires many more spatial dimensions--now it looks like six and sometimes seven more.

Donor Attracted by Strings

What brought Gluck and Gross together was string theory. They first met at a reception UCSB Dean of Engineering Matthew Tirrell hosted at the outset of 2000 for Engineering supporters at his house.

Gluck's idea of the highest form of entertainment was to invite Gross to his home for an hour lecture--with transparencies--on string theory or the "Theory of Everything" as it is sometimes called. But that presentation stretched out to four hours because the avid Gluck kept asking questions that drove the discussion ever deeper into the truly labyrinthine complexities of string theory. Gross recommended to Gluck Brian Greene's book on the subject, titled The Elegant Universe.

Riveted by the subject, Gluck became a proselytizer for string theory by, for instance, giving his own presentation at Birnam Wood Golf Club. Gluck (in case he needed "back-up") invited Gross.

"I was amazed," Gross (who in effect "stayed on the bench" throughout) said, "by the high quality of that presentation. Fred has become a lay master of the subject. What most impresses me about Fred is his intelligence. He's just so smart. It's wonderful to be around someone who isn't a physicist who has a mind so quick that he frequently startles with his insights. And those unexpected lightning-fast turns in his thought are often delightfully funny. What a pleasure it is for me to be the first holder of the Gluck Chair in Theoretical Physics. I held two endowed chairs [first as Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics and then as Thomas D. Jones Professor of Mathematical Physicss] at Princeton, but this chair means so much more to me because of my high regard and affection for Fred."

This endowed chair enables the director to have access to funds for special programming initiatives.

The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics hosts the worlds leading physicists at conferences and programs designed to provoke interactions leading to insights into the most intellectually provocative scientific questions of the day.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) allocates $4 million annually towards the running of the Institute for Theoretical Physics. Another $1 million annually comes from the UCSB operating budget. The scientific programs supported by federal funds are determined at five-year intervals in conjunction with an arduous NSF review process. The last review in 1999 resulted in the largest federal grant--$17.3 million--ever made to UCSB.

But the subjects of the programs have to be determined well in advance of their actual occurrence in order to be funded. Gluck's gift provides a funding source for the director to convene posthaste a workshop or seminar on a topic on which a breakthrough is presently occurring.

"It is customary on such occasions", said Gross, "to say that the donor has given so much more than the actual dollar value of the gift. But in the case of Fred Gluck, that is really true. What he's done is to give us the benefit of his intelligence and his monumental management consulting expertise to mastermind what has turned into a remarkably successful, so far, campaign on behalf of the Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Golf Game Prompts Idea for Kavli Institute

It was Gluck, who first conceived the "Kavli" Institute for Theoretical Physics. And the seeds of that conception were sowed on a golf course, when Gluck's partner on the links, Hubert (Hugh) Vos, a friend of Fred Kavli, told Gluck about the Kavli Foundation and its objectives.

Kavli is the founder and former chairman and CEO of the Moorpark, Calif.-based Kavlico Corp., which manufactures linear feedback position sensors for aircraft and pressure sensors for cars. With the sale of Kavlico in 2000, Kavli set up the Kavli Foundation to encourage and support the pursuit of knowledge with likely long-term benefits for all peoples. The Foundation aims to establish endowed chairs at the world's best universities. And by the time Gluck and Vos had that conversation while golfing, Kavli had already endowed two chairs in the UCSB College of Engineering, one in Optoelectronics and Sensors and the other in MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS).

Gluck told Gross of his idea for the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, and the two went to present the idea in person to Fred Kavli, who after careful deliberation in consultation with his foundation board agreed to a $7.5 million gift to the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. The gift was announced in December of 2001, and the naming ceremony took place in June 2002.

Kohn Hall Takes Wing

To accommodate more physicists for the expanded opportunities for programming, a wing is being added to the Kavli Institute building, called Kohn Hall in honor of former director and Nobel Prize winning condensed matter theorist Walter Kohn. The internationally acclaimed Michael Graves, Kohn Hall's original architect, is designing the addition.

In March 2001 a symposium in honor of Gross's 60th birthday ended with a reception at Fred Gluck's house. It doesn't rain much in Santa Barbara, but it did that Sunday night. Winds and water beat against the tents hastily erected to shelter the outdoor buffet and lifted the tent bottom and separated the tent top from the side of the Gluck residence, and sheets of water poured in. The people moved indoors for the concluding ceremony. Cambridge theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking attended--his second attendance at an event hosted by Gluck in Santa Barbara on behalf of theoretical physics.

That stormy night Gluck, unperturbed by the havoc the weather was making of his splendid party arrangements, surprised Gross with his announcement of his intention to endow a chair for the director.

UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, in attendance that evening at Gluck's reception for Gross, admits that he had had an inkling beforehand of the evening's culminating announcement. Yang smiles, "It isn't often that I get to see David Gross taken by surprise. It was a marvelous, very special event. Fred Gluck not only made a generous gift to UCSB, which honors his own deep interests in theoretical physics, but he made the gift with extraordinary flair by providing such an elegant and dramatic context for the announcement. I want to thank Fred both for endowing the Gluck professorship, but also for all the superb advice and wise guidance he has given us as a member of UCSB's Foundation Board as well as the Capital Campaign Steering Committee. I really value the vision he has shared with me."

In addition to their roles as in effect CEOs of major enterprises and their commitment to raising support for UCSB, Gluck and Yang have other interests in common. The Chancellor likes physics. He not only attends but demonstrably enjoys the public lectures given three times annually at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. And Gluck and Yang are both by education and early profession engineers, so they grasp with greater ease the sometimes seemingly technical complexities of those KITP public lectures than do other members of the audience less quantitatively grounded.

Bell Beginning

With a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Manhattan College, Gluck headed to Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1957. While at Bell, Gluck completed a master's degree in electrical engineering at New York University and undertook graduate studies at Columbia University in operations research.

During his 10-year tenure at Bell Labs, Gluck rose to the position of program manager for the Spartan anti-missile missile. "The Spartan was eventually deployed for 'hard sight' defense in places such as North Dakota," said Gluck, "but it turned out not to be feasible for perimeter or area defense [meaning cities]. The realization that it wouldn't be is part of why I left Bell Labs. It isn't difficult to shoot down one incoming missile, but then you have to deal with offensive countermeasures, and they are the problem."

Gluck describes the "jack" approach, and by "jack" he means those little metal things children scatter and pick up with a small ball in motion. "We developed a very sophisticated computer program to tell the difference between a jack and a missile. In order to shoot down a missile, you have to track it with radar, so we simulated deploying jacks configured to look like missiles coming in. It turned out that the offense always had the upper hand."

Engineer Ascends to McKinsey Head

In 1976 Gluck left Bell Labs for McKinsey. And Gluck the engineer found himself in a nest of MBAs. "They had learned business history and marketing," he said. What McKinsey does is to solve problems for corporations. A consultant goes out to the site, collects information, and analyzes it. "Engineering is preeminently a problem-solving discipline," Gluck points out. "My education as an engineer and 10 years at Bell Labs had given me better quantitative analytic skills than the traditional MBA route would have provided."

But, he added, management consulting requires "comfort with an ill-structured situation, which might be troublesome for some engineers. A corporation generally comes to McKinsey with a problem, which ends up looking a lot different than what the corporation originally thought."

In 1988 Gluck was elected to the first of two three-year terms as McKinsey's managing director. McKinsey is organized along the lines of a law firm with senior and junior partners and associates. When Gluck headed the firm, McKinsey, which is headquartered in New York, numbered 150 senior partners in offices throughout the world.

"One reason why I chose to endow a professorship for the director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics is its conceptual resemblance to McKinsey. Both bring together experts from around the world to solve a problem."

The slope of Gluck's ascent to managing director accelerated in 1976 when Ron Daniel, then newly elected to that position, asked for reports on how to make McKinsey better. "I told him," said Gluck. "that I thought the intellectual and strategy development of the firm was lacking in three areas, pertaining to the way corporations (1) operate, (2) are organized, and (3) strategize."

Gluck ended up rebuilding McKinsey's strategy process and eventually taking leadership of the firm's intellectual development.

"I organized core teams," said Gluck, "with titles like 'manufacturing,' 'strategy.' 'microeconomics'--the disciplines and sub-disciplines for managing a large corporation. I encouraged the people involved to get together three times a year to discuss some aspect of management--that's similar to what happens at the KITP, but there, of course, the focus is on physics problems.

Transforming American Business

"We ended up creating an incredible knowledge base of what goes on in business. We shared information and problem-solving approaches and created a network of experts. People are always trying to do this with hard copy," said Gluck, "but we put in place a mouth-to-mouth way for linking the people who know to the people who need to know. That is not to say there was no hard copy. We put out a series of 1,400 bulletins each one-page long. We also published numerous articles in leading management journals and in-house publications. The emphasis was not on developing pieces of paper, but people, who ended up knowing with whom they could consult on a given problem. The process was one of developing collective consciousness."

It is now generally accepted in corporate management circles that the ensuing ideas transformed American business.

Such a systemic way of thinking accords with Gluck's prior academic and later professional interests in the highly mathematical field of operations research. "Operations research," he said, "looks at modeling different systems. Theoretical physics is about modeling one system--the universe. The logician Kurt Goedel argued that ultimately it can't be done. He proved that there is always something that might have been overlooked. For instance, if there is a god. Or to put it another way, whether to believe physical reality is the only reality. I don't. I want to leave the doors open."

Gluck retired from McKinsey in 1995 and joined The Bechtel Group, where he served as vice-chairman and director until 1998. He was responsible for overseeing Bechtel's global industry units, as well as corporate support services, alliances, and strategic marketing and analysis. "Bechtel serves a wide variety of industries including power, petroleum and chemicals, surface transportation, aviation services, buildings, water supply and treatment, infrastructure development, pipelines, mining and metals, pulp and paper, advanced technology, environmental remediation, manufacturing, and telecommunications," according to Gluck.

He now serves on the boards of AMGEN, HCA-The Healthcare Company, Thinking Tools, Russell Reynolds' International, and Mission Research Corp. In addition to his volunteer work at UCSB, he also serves on a number of other non-profit boards including the New York Presbyterian Hospital, the Cottage Health System (Santa Barbara), and the Rand Health Care Advisory Board.