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Edward Witten

Nationality American

Alma mater

Princeton University (M.A., 1974; Ph.D.,

1976)

Seiberg–Witten theory

Seiberg–Witten invariants

Wess–Zumino–Witten model

Weinberg–Witten theorem

Gromov–Witten invariant

Hořava–Witten domain wall

Vafa–Witten theorem

Witten index

BCFW recursion

TQFTs)

AdS/CFT correspondence

CSW rules

Witten conjecture

Hanany–Witten transition

Children 3

Scientific career

Superstring theory

Harvard University

Oxford University

Princeton University

Xiao-Gang Wen

Eva Silverstein

Shamit Kachru

Sergei Gukov

Dror Bar-Natan

Website www.sns.ias.edu/witten

physicist and professor of mathematical physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton,

New Jersey.

Witten is a researcher in string theory, quantum gravity, supersymmetric quantum field theories, and

other areas of mathematical physics.

In addition to his contributions to physics, Witten's work has significantly impacted pure

mathematics.[4] In 1990, he became the first and so far the only physicist to be awarded a Fields

Medal by the International Mathematical Union, awarded for his 1981 proof of the positive energy

theorem in general relativity.[5]

Contents

2Research

o 2.1Fields medal work

o 2.2M-theory

o 2.3Other work

3Awards and honors

4Personal life

5Selected publications

6References

7External links

Early life and education[edit]

Witten was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to a Jewish family.[6] He is the son of Lorraine (Wollach)

Witten and Louis Witten, a theoretical physicist specializing in gravitation and general relativity.[7]

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. He worked briefly for George McGovern's presidential

campaign.

Witten attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison for one semester as an economics graduate

student before dropping out.[2]He returned to academia, enrolling in applied mathematics at Princeton

University in 1973, then shifting departments and receiving a Ph.D. in physics in 1976 under David

Gross,[2] the 2004 Nobel laureate in Physics. He held a fellowship at Harvard University (1976–77),

visited Oxford University (1977–78),[3][8] was a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows (1977–

1980), and held a MacArthur Foundation fellowship (1982).

Research[edit]

Fields medal work[edit]

Witten was awarded the Fields Medal by the International Mathematical Union in 1990, becoming

the first physicist to win the prize.

In a written address to the ICM, Michael Atiyah said of Witten,[4]

Although he is definitely a physicist (as his list of publications clearly shows) his command of

mathematics is rivaled by few mathematicians, and his ability to interpret physical ideas in

mathematical form is quite unique. Time and again he has surprised the mathematical community by

a brilliant application of physical insight leading to new and deep mathematical theorems... [H]e 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.

Edward Witten (left) with mathematician Shigefumi Mori, probably at the ICM in 1990 where they received

the Fields Medal

As an example of Witten's work in pure mathematics, Atiyah cites his application of techniques

from quantum field theory to the mathematical subject of low-dimensional topology. In the late

1980s, Witten coined the term topological quantum field theory for a certain type of physical theory in

which the expectation values of observable quantities encode information about

the topology of spacetime.[9] In particular, Witten realized that a physical theory now called Chern–

Simons theory could provide a framework for understanding the mathematical theory of knots and 3-

manifolds.[10] Although Witten's work was based on the mathematically ill-defined notion of

a Feynman path integral and was therefore not mathematically rigorous, mathematicians were able

to systematically develop Witten's ideas, leading to the theory of Reshetikhin–Turaev invariants.[11]

Another result for which Witten was awarded the Fields Medal was his proof in 1981 of the positive

energy theorem in general relativity.[12] This theorem asserts that (under appropriate assumptions)

the total energy of a gravitating system is always positive and can be zero only if the geometry

of spacetime is that of flat Minkowski space. It establishes Minkowski space as a stable ground state

of the gravitational field. While the original proof of this result due to Richard Schoen and Shing-

Tung Yau used variational methods,[13][14] Witten's proof used ideas from supergravity theory to

simplify the argument.

A third area mentioned in Atiyah's address is Witten's work relating supersymmetry and Morse

theory,[15] a branch of mathematics that studies the topology of manifolds using the concept of

a differentiable function. Witten's work gave a physical proof of a classical result, the Morse

inequalities, by interpreting the theory in terms of supersymmetric quantum mechanics.

M-theory[edit]

By the mid 1990s, physicists working on string theory had developed five different consistent

versions of the theory. These versions are known as type I, type IIA, type IIB, and the two flavors

of heterotic string theory (SO(32) and E8×E8). The thinking was that out of these five candidate

theories, only one was the actual correct theory of everything, and that theory was the one whose

low-energy limit matched the physics observed in our world today.

Speaking at the string theory conference at University of Southern California in 1995, Witten made

the surprising suggestion that these five string theories were in fact not distinct theories, but different

limits of a single theory which he called M-theory.[16][17] Witten's proposal was based on the

observation that the five string theories can be mapped to one another by certain rules

called dualities and are identified by these dualities.

Witten's announcement led to a flurry of work now known as the second superstring revolution.

Other work[edit]

Another of his contributions to physics was to the result of gauge/gravity duality. In 1997, Juan

Maldacena formulated a result known as the AdS/CFT correspondence, which establishes a

relationship between certain quantum field theories and theories of quantum gravity.[18]Maldacena's

discovery has dominated high energy theoretical physics for the past 15 years because of its

applications to theoretical problems in quantum gravity and quantum field theory. Witten's

foundational work following Maldacena's result has shed light on this relationship.[19]

In collaboration with Nathan Seiberg, Witten established several powerful results in quantum field

theories. In their paper on string theory and noncommutative geometry, Seiberg and Witten studied

certain noncommutative quantum field theories that arise as limits of string theory.[20]In another well-

known paper, they studied aspects of supersymmetric gauge theory.[21] The latter paper, combined

with Witten's earlier work on topological quantum field theory,[9] led to developments in the topology

of smooth 4-manifolds, in particular the notion of Seiberg–Witten invariants.

With Anton Kapustin, he has made deep mathematical connections between S-duality of gauge

theories and the geometric Langlands correspondence.[22] Partly in collaboration with Seiberg, one of

his recent interests include aspects of field theoretical description of topological phases in

condensed matter and non-supersymmetric dualities in field theories that, among other things, are of

high relevance in condensed matter theory. From a generalization of SYK models from condensed

matter and quantum chaos, he has also recently brought tensor models of Garau to the relevance of

holographic and quantum gravity theories.

In general, Witten has done influential and insightful works in many aspects of quantum field theories

and mathematical physics, including the physics and mathematics of anomalies, integrability,

dualities, localization, homologies and so on. Many of his results have deeply influenced many areas

in theoretical physics (often well beyond the original context of his results), including string theory,

quantum gravity and topological condensed matter.

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 Science[23] (2002),

Pythagoras Award[24] (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). Since

1999, he has been a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (London), and in March 2016 was

elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.[25][26] 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. In 2012 he became a fellow of

the American Mathematical Society.[27]

In an informal poll at a 1990 cosmology conference, Witten received the largest number of mentions

as "the smartest living physicist".[28]

Personal life[edit]

Witten has been married to Chiara Nappi, a professor of physics at Princeton University, since

1979.[29] They have two daughters, Ilana, a neuroscientist at Princeton University,[30]and Daniela, a

biostatistician at University of Washington,[31] and one son, Rafael, and a granddaughter Nava.

Witten sits on the board of directors of Americans for Peace Now and is also on the advisory council

of J Street.[32] He supports the two-state solution and advocates a boycott of Israeli institutions and

economic activity beyond its 1967 borders, though not of Israel itself.[33] Witten is also a keen tennis

player.[34]

Selected publications[edit]

Some Problems in the Short Distance Analysis of Gauge Theories. Princeton University, 1976.

(Dissertation.)

Roman Jackiw, David Gross, Sam B. Treiman, Edward Witten, Bruno Zumino. Current Algebra

and Anomalies: A Set of Lecture Notes and Papers. World Scientific, 1985.

Green, M., John H. Schwarz, and E. Witten. Superstring Theory. Vol. 1, Introduction. Cambridge

Monographs on Mathematical Physics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,

1988. ISBN 9780521357524.

Green, M., John H. Schwarz, and E. Witten. Superstring Theory. Vol. 2, Loop Amplitudes,

Anomalies and Phenomenology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,

1988. ISBN 9780521357531.

Quantum fields and strings: a course for mathematicians. Vols. 1, 2. Material from the Special

Year on Quantum Field Theory held at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, 1996–

1997. Edited by Pierre Deligne, Pavel Etingof, Daniel S. Freed, Lisa C. Jeffrey, David

Kazhdan, John W. Morgan, David R. Morrison and Edward Witten. American Mathematical

Society, Providence, RI; Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), Princeton, NJ, 1999. Vol. 1: xxii+723

pp.; Vol. 2: pp. i–xxiv and 727–1501. ISBN 0-8218-1198-3, 81–06 (81T30 81Txx).

References[edit]

1. ^ "Announcement of 2016 Winners". World Cultural Council. June 6, 2016. Archived from the

original on June 7, 2016. Retrieved June 6, 2016.

2. ^ Jump up to:a b c Woit, Peter (2006). Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search

for Unity in Physical Law. New York: Basic Books. p. 105. ISBN 0-465-09275-6.

3. ^ Jump up to:a b c Edward Witten – Adventures in physics and math (Kyoto Prize lecture 2014)

4. ^ Jump up to:a b Atiyah, Michael (1990). "On the Work of Edward Witten" (PDF). Proceedings of the

International Congress of Mathematicians. pp. 31–35. Archived from the original (PDF)on 2017-03-01.

5. ^ Michael Atiyah. "On the Work of Edward Witten" (PDF). Mathunion.org. Archived from the

original (PDF) on 1 March 2017. Retrieved 31 March 2017.

6. ^ Witten biography - MacTutor History of Mathematics

7. ^ The International Who's Who 1992-93, p. 1754.

8. ^ Interview by Hirosi Ooguri, Notices Amer. Math. Soc., May 2015, pp. 491–506.

9. ^ Jump up to:a b Witten, Edward (1988), "Topological quantum field theory", Communications in

Mathematical Physics, 117 (3): 353–386, Bibcode:1988CMaPh.117..353W, doi:10.1007/BF01223371

10. ^ Witten, Edward (1989). "Quantum Field Theory and the Jones Polynomial" (PDF). Communications

in Mathematical Physics. 121 (3): 351–

399. Bibcode:1989CMaPh.121..351W. doi:10.1007/BF01217730.

11. ^ Reshetikhin, Nicolai; Turaev, Vladimir (1991). "Invariants of 3-manifolds via link polynomials and

quantum groups". Inventiones Mathematicae. 103 (1): 547–

597. Bibcode:1991InMat.103..547R. doi:10.1007/BF01239527.

12. ^ Witten, Edward (1981). "A new proof of the positive energy theorem". Communications in

Mathematical Physics. 80 (3): 381–402. Bibcode:1981CMaPh..80..381W. doi:10.1007/BF01208277.

13. ^ Schoen, Robert; Yau, Shing-Tung (1979). "On the proof of the positive mass conjecture in general

relativity". Communications in Mathematical Physics. 65:

45. Bibcode:1979CMaPh..65...45S. doi:10.1007/BF01940959.

14. ^ Schoen, Robert; Yau, Shing-Tung (1981). "Proof of the positive mass theorem. II". Communications

in Mathematical Physics. 79 (2): 231. Bibcode:1981CMaPh..79..231S. doi:10.1007/BF01942062.

15. ^ Witten, Edward (1982). "Super-symmetry and Morse Theory". Journal of Differential Geometry. 17:

661–692.

16. ^ University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Future Perspectives in String Theory, March 13-18,

1995, E. Witten: Some problems of strong and weak coupling

17. ^ Witten, Edward (1995). "String theory dynamics in various dimensions". Nuclear Physics B. 443 (1):

85–126. arXiv:hep-th/9503124. Bibcode:1995NuPhB.443...85W. doi:10.1016/0550-3213(95)00158-O.

18. ^ Juan M. Maldacena (1998). "The Large N limit of superconformal field theories and

supergravity". Advances in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics. AIP Conference Proceedings. 2:

231–252. arXiv:hep-th/9711200. Bibcode:1998AdTMP...2..231M. doi:10.1063/1.59653.

19. ^ Edward Witten (1998). "Anti-de Sitter space and holography". Advances in Theoretical and

Mathematical Physics. 2: 253–291. arXiv:hep-th/9802150. Bibcode:1998AdTMP...2..253W.

20. ^ Seiberg, Nathan; Witten, Edward (1999). "String Theory and Noncommutative Geometry". Journal of

High Energy Physics. 1999 (9): 032. arXiv:hep-

th/9908142. Bibcode:1999JHEP...09..032S. doi:10.1088/1126-6708/1999/09/032.

21. ^ Seiberg, Nathan; Witten, Edward (1994). "Electric-magnetic duality, monopole condensation, and

confinement in N=2 supersymmetric Yang-Mills theory". Nuclear Physics B. 426 (1): 19–52. arXiv:hep-

th/9407087. Bibcode:1994NuPhB.426...19S. doi:10.1016/0550-3213(94)90124-4.

22. ^ Kapustin, Anton; Witten, Edward (2006-04-21). "Electric-Magnetic Duality And The Geometric

Langlands Program". arXiv:hep-th/0604151.

23. ^ "Edward Witten", The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details.

24. ^ "Il premio Pitagora al fisico teorico Witten". Il Crotonese (in Italian). September 23, 2005. Archived

from the original on 2011-07-22.

25. ^ "Foreign Members", The Royal Society.

26. ^ https://www.royalsoced.org.uk/1200_2016ElectedFellows.html

27. ^ List of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society, retrieved 2013-09-01.

28. ^ Lemonick, Michael (April 26, 2004). "Edward Witten". Time. Retrieved November 1,2011.

"At a 1990 conference on cosmology," wrote John Horgan in 2014, "I asked attendees, who included

folks like Stephen Hawking, Michael Turner, James Peebles, Alan Guth and Andrei Linde, to nominate

the smartest living physicist. Edward Witten got the most votes (with Steven Weinberg the runner-up).

Some considered Witten to be in the same league as Einstein and Newton." See "Physics Titan

Edward Witten Still Thinks String Theory 'on the Right Track'". scientificamerican.com. 22 September

2014. Retrieved 14 October 2014.

29. ^ Witten, Ed. "The 2014 Kyoto Prize Commemorative Lecture in Basic Sciences" (PDF). Retrieved 28

January 2017.

30. ^ "Faculty » Ilana B. Witten". princeton.edu. Retrieved 18 November 2016.

31. ^ "UW Faculty » Daniela M. Witten". washington.edu. Retrieved 9 July 2015.

32. ^ "Advisory Council". J Street. 2016. Retrieved 2016-10-14.

33. ^ "For an Economic Boycott and Political Nonrecognition of the Israeli Settlements in the Occupied

Territories", NYRB, October 2016.

34. ^ "Jewish American Physicist Says He'll Send Part of $3 Million Prize to J Street". JTA. 4 August

2012. Retrieved 18 March 2017 – via haaretz.com.

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