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Mathematical physics

Mathematical physics

String theorist takes over from Hawking

20 Oct 2009 Michael Banks
Standing on the shoulders of giants

String theorist Michael Green has been announced as the next Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University. Green, 63, will succeed Stephen Hawking who held the chair from 1980 before retiring last month at the age of 67 and taking up a distinguished research chair at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada.

Green is currently the John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Theoretical Physics at Cambridge, a position he had held since 1993. Green obtained his BA and PhD from Cambridge and later spent time as a postdoc at Princeton, Cambridge and the University of Oxford. In 1978 he joined Queen Mary, University of London before heading back to Cambridge in 1993.

The Lucasian chair was created in 1663 as a result of a gift from the then Member of Parliament for the university, Henry Lucas. Green is the 18th person to hold the chair and follows a long line of influential figures including Isaac Newton, who held the post from 1669 to 1702, and Paul Dirac, who was Lucasian professor form 1932 to 1969. Hawking stepped down from the position last month because the post must be vacated when the holder is 67, according to Cambridge rules.

Superstring revolution

Green, a fellow of the Royal Society, is regarded as one of the founding fathers of string theory. In 1984, in what is deemed the first superstring revolution, he developed the Green–Schwarz mechanism – a major discovery that led to the realization that string theory may be able to describe all the elementary particles and the interactions between them – together with John Schwartz from the California Institute of Technology. String theory became the first theory in physics to predict the number of space–time dimensions and in 1984 went from being a fringe activity to mainstream theoretical physics

Green has been awarded the Dirac and Maxwell Medals of the Institute of Physics, UK, and the Dirac Medal from the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy.

Green takes up the position of Lucasian professor on 1 November.

“Professor Green is certainly a worthy successor to Hawking,” says Robert Bruen, who maintains the website and has studied the history of the professorship. “[This is] a great day and well deserved.”

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