Photo by Kevin Barron.
Joseph Polchinski, a permanent member of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, has been named 2007 recipient of the prestigious Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics. He shares the prize with Juan Maldacena of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
The pair of theoretical physicists is cited “For profound developments in Mathematical Physics that have illuminated interconnections and launched major research areas in Quantum Field Theory, String Theory, and Gravity.”
Administered jointly by the American Physical Society (APS) and the American Institute of Physics, the Heineman Prize was established in 1959 to recognize outstanding research in the field of mathematical physics. The prize was awarded at the annual APS meeting held in 2007 in April in Jacksonville, Fla.
Polchinski, the principal discoverer of D-branes and their properties, is widely recognized as one of the leading field and string theorists of his generation.
String theory affords the best approach to date to a grand theory that encompasses gravity and the other three forces described by the Standard Model of particle physics (the electromagnetic, weak and strong forces). Strings and branes are the essential structures in string theory.
Instead of being only one-dimensional like strings, branes can have any dimensionality, including one. One-dimensional branes are called “D1 branes or D strings.” So there are essentially two types of strings — the “heterotic” string or “F” (for “fundamental”) string, which physicists knew about prior to Polchinski’s 1995 discovery, and the “D string,” or one-dimensional brane.
Polchinski is the author of a two-volume text on string theory, which is already a classic in the field.
The native New Yorker received a BA degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1975 and his PhD from Berkeley in 1980. After two two-year stints as a research associate, first at the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) and then at Harvard, Polchinski joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin as an assistant professor in 1984. He advanced to associate professor there in 1987 and to professor in 1990. He accepted his professorial appointment at Santa Barbara in 1992.
Recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship from 1985 to 1989, Polchinski was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1997, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2005.