UCSB Professor Recognized for Outstanding Research



The Academic Senate recently awarded UCSB physics professor Joseph Polchinski the title of 2014 Faculty Research Lecturer, the highest honor a professor can receive from the university body.

The Faculty Research Lecturer is a prestigious recognition awarded every year since 1955 to a faculty member who demonstrates high achievements in research, outstanding professional competence and the ability to present a lecture of interest to students and the general public. Polchinski has been with the physics department since 1992 and serves as a permanent member of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Polchinski said he was excited to be selected for the honor and said the university has been instrumental in giving his work the help, exposure and recognition it needs.

“I was very pleased and honored, to be selected by my fellow faculty,” Polchinski said in an email. “My work has benefited very much from being at UCSB — the excellent students and colleagues to work with and the strong support from the University for maintaining a first-rate research environment, one of the best in the world.”

According to current Faculty Research Lecturer John Bowers, who chaired the 2013-2014 Faculty Research Lecturer Committee responsible for selecting the awardee, Polchinski stood out among the seven nominees due to the widespread scope of his research. Along with over 24,000 citations of his research, Polchinski has received several academic awards such as the prestigious Dirac Medal for theoretical physics back in 2008.

“The number of awards he’s gotten is kind of, you know, over the top,” Bowers said. “I honestly think he is one of the two people on campus that could get a Nobel Prize.”

As the new Faculty Research Lecturer, Polchinski will be responsible for delivering a free public lecture in the fall titled “Space-Time Versus the Quantum” concerning a conflict between two major theories of physics, quantum mechanics and general relativity, regarding the nature of black holes based on questions raised by the research of Stephen Hawking.

Much of Polchinski’s current research concerns black holes and the complex relationship they have with the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Polchinski said famed physicist Stephen Hawking influenced his work.

“Hawking showed that quantum mechanics has a big effect on black holes, but that quantum mechanics and general relativity come into conflict in describing black holes,” Polchinski said in an email. “Much of my talk [will be] about the puzzles that Hawking found, and what we have learned from them.”

Calling him “brilliant,” Bowers said Polchinski’s work has advanced the current understanding of string theory through his contributions to the discovery of “objects extended in more than one dimension.”

“He is one of the brightest physicists in the world,” Bowers said in an email. “He has made huge contributions to modern physics, including his discovery of ‘D-branes’ in 1995. This revolutionized our understanding of string theory. It sparked a many years of extremely rapid progress, which became known as the ‘second string revolution.’”

 

This story is a Daily Nexus online exclusive.

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