Stephen Hawking's Old Job Goes to a String Theory Pioneer

By Eliza Strickland | October 21, 2009 2:04 pm

Michael-GreenAt the University of Cambridge it’s out with black holes, in with tiny vibrating strings of energy. The prestigious professorship that was most recently held by Stephen Hawking, the physicist whose great contributions to the field include new models of black holes, has been given to the string theory luminary Michael Green.

The Lucasian Professorship was established in 1663 and previous holders have included Isaac Newton [BBC News]; it’s considered one of the most prestigious academic posts in the world. Hawking held the job for 30 years, but stepped down in September following his 67th birthday, in accordance with a university rule.

Green is one of the founders of string theory, which many physicists believe paves the way to understanding all of nature’s forces, including electromagnetism, the strong force that holds atomic nuclei together, the weak force that governs certain forms of radiation, and gravity that keeps our feet on the ground and the Earth in orbit around the Sun [The Guardian]. Its goal is to unify the two fundamental physics theories of the 20th century: quantum mechanics, which governs the behavior of subatomic particles, and Einstein’s cosmological theory of general relativity.

String theory, which is formulated in ten dimensions with the extra dimensions ‘compactified’ at very high energy, has met with many successes over the years. It has, for example, been shown to contain all the known particles of the so-called standard model of particle physics [Cambridge Network].

Related Content:
80beats: Stephen Hawking Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom
DISCOVER: Being Stephen Hawking
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DISCOVER: Roger Penrose Says Physics Is Wrong, From String Theory to Quantum Mechanics

Image: University of Cambridge

  • Ron Bennett

    Stephen Hawking was no doubt a casualty of the present and the future a great thought provoking professor that gave us some valuable insights into where space-time ended and gravity took over, hope Michael Green the best.

  • Gray Gaffer

    I thought they had agreed on 11 dimensions?

    Ron: “Hawking held the job for 30 years, but stepped down in September following his 67th birthday, in accordance with a university rule”. So not a casualty of anything but advancing age and bureaucracy.

  • Ron Bennett

    Gray it was a play on words not meant to lessen Hawking’s contribution to science, it was in reference to what some people think about string theory and that the Higgs boson will never be found if string theory is right, I don’t think it will be found neither but for different reasons, they think that the future protects the past:

    See this essay: The Collider, the Particle and a Theory About Fate , New York times, 10.12.2009

    “Dr. Nielsen admits that he and Dr. Ninomiya’s new theory smacks of time travel, a longtime interest, which has become a respectable research subject in recent years. While it is a paradox to go back in time and kill your grandfather, physicists agree there is no paradox if you go back in time and save him from being hit by a bus. In the case of the Higgs and the collider, it is as if something is going back in time to keep the universe from being hit by a bus. Although just why the Higgs would be a catastrophe is not clear. If we knew, presumably, we wouldn’t be trying to make one.”

    “For those of us who believe in physics,” Einstein once wrote to a friend, “this separation between past, present and future is only an illusion.”

  • Gray Gaffer

    Ron: yeah, I get it.

    I have been following the LHC failure stories with some amusement. I particularly like the Many Worlds version that uses its failures to ‘prove’ Fermi’s Paradox – they ain’t here because they don’t exist because any universe with intelligences capable of making their LHC equivalent work collapsed. We are here so we are the only ones inhabiting this version of the Universe in which our LHC consistently fails. It is also falsifiable – if ‘they’ actually show up, or if we finally get ours to work and do not vanish up our own fundamentals. Of course any others in our particular universe may also be suffering consistent failures, so it is not really a proof other than by unlikeliness.

    The LHC is I believe the most complex machine ever built on our planet. With many parts subject to extreme temperature and pressure stresses. The MTBF required for it to stay operational long enough to actually get any results must place extreme reliability requirements on those parts, perhaps more so than everybody involved has experience meeting. Although I have to say, the ASR 33 showed me that lots of moving parts per se can be reliably built albeit on a relatively miniscule scale.

    I was born with the Transistor, and have had the great fortune to live in this era of exponential growth in big boys’ toys. And it never lets up. Except for Congress’ inability to see value in funding basic research or space to any serious level, or the short-term profit motive destroying long-established treasures like Bell Labs . Waiting to see Obama’s words come to pass.

  • http://none Lewis

    Wow, they didnt even put Michael Green’s name in the title of the article. Basically, the title amounts to “Hawking steps down for Some Other Guy”. Oh well, too late now I guess.

  • Tim Johnson

    Lucasian chair of mathematics at Cambridge became shelter and parents home to these that are beyond their peak. What a pity.


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