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Dr. Cumrun Vafa Awarded 2017 Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics

Source: Breakthrough Prize

Iranian-American scientist Dr. Cumrun Vafa is the recipient of the 2017 Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics.  Dr. Vafa will share the $3 million prize with 2 Professors Joseph Polchinski and Andrew Strominger.

Dr. Cumrun Vafa
(credit: Hayward Photography)

The Breakthrough Prize and founders Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, announced the recipients of the 2017 Breakthrough Prizes on December 4th, marking the organization's fifth anniversary recognizing top achievements in Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics.

A combined total of $25 million was awarded at the gala ceremony in Silicon Valley, hosted by Morgan Freeman. Each of the Breakthrough Prizes is worth $3 million, the largest individual monetary prize in science.

The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizes major insights into the deepest questions of the universe.

The three winners, sharing the $3 million prize, are:

  • Joseph Polchinski, Professor in the Department of Physics and Member of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara;
  • Andrew Strominger, Director of the Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature at Harvard University; and,
  • Cumrun Vafa, Donner Professor of Science in the Department of Physics at Harvard

All three received the Prize for transformative advances in quantum field theory, string theory, and quantum gravity. (see related video)

About Cumrun Vafa:
Source: Harvard University

Cumrun Vafa's primary area of research is string theory. String theory, a subject that is about four decades old, is at the center of efforts by theoretical physicists to find a unified fundamental theory of nature. String theory provides a framework to unify everything we know about nature, including all particles and the forces between them, in a consistent quantum theory. This is an ambitious goal, given that it aims to describe physical phenomena involving scales 1025 times smaller than the atom, as well as the cosmology of our entire universe, which involves a scale of about 1037 times bigger than the atom. In a single theory, one studies the mysteries of confinement of quarks inside atomic nuclei, as well as enigmatic properties of astrophysical objects such as black holes.

Such an all-encompassing theory necessarily requires a tremendous amount of mathematical technology. In fact, most of the mathematics needed for string theory is not even yet developed. String theorists thus have the exciting task of building new mathematics as tools to explore new laws of physics. It is therefore not surprising that string theory is at the cross roads of many fields, including mathematics, particle phenomenology and astrophysics. Cumrun Vafa's research has involved essentially all these aspects. Together with his colleagues he has worked on topological strings, trying to elucidate some new mathematics originating from string theory (notably in his work on mirror symmetry) and using these techniques to uncover some of the mysteries of black holes, particularly the Bekenstein-Hawking entropy. He has also applied these ideas to particle theories by geometrically engineering quantum field theories, as well as solving the strong coupling dynamics of confining theories (using large N matrix model technology) and geometrizing string theory defects (in a limit of string theory known as F-theory). His recent work involves applying these ideas to come up with stringy predictions about what the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN may potentially discover in the near future.

Read the full press release by Breakthrough Prize

Related Article:

Cumrun Vafa on Stringing the Universe Together
By Jahandad Memarian, Huffington Post (02/10/2016)


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