Edward Witten Interview on Big Ideas (2003)

Edward Witten Interview (1/2)

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Video Description

Edward Witten, the Charles Simonyi Professor of Mathematical Physics in the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study, is one of the world's leading theoretical physicists. Professor Witten is one of the principal authors of string theory, the framework with which physicists have sought to unify quantum mechanics with gravity. String theorists propose that tiny, high-dimensional strings, closed into loops, vibrate to produce the various components of matter. The mathematics describing these strings, many physicists believe, may one day prove to be the key to one of the main puzzles of physics: the relationship of gravity to other known natural forces. In recent years, by means of mysterious new "duality" symmetries, physicists have obtained a much more far-reaching understanding of string theory that has many implications.

Much of Dr. Witten's early work was involved in application of the Standard Model of particle physics. He is the author of many influential papers on quantum chromodynamics, which explains the strong force that binds atomic nuclei together. He has worked increasingly in the area of more speculative unification theories, and has been working on superstring theory since 1984.

"He shows the direction for the rest of us," stated Institute physicist Nathan Seiberg, who collaborated with Witten on a series of groundbreaking papers. "His main strength is that he's powerful in everything. Both in math -- the most sophisticated math -- and physics … he has remarkable physics intuition as well as complete control over the math that is needed. And, in that respect, I think he's unique."

Educational Background

Edward Witten was born in 1951 and received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1976. He was a fellow at Harvard University (1976-1980) and a professor at Princeton University (1980-1987) before becoming a member of the permanent Faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1987. Professor Witten has been the recipient of numerous prizes and medals, including a MacArthur Fellowship, the Dirac Medal, the Fields Medal, and the National Science Foundation's Alan T. Waterman Award for the best young researcher. He holds a Ph.D. degree from Princeton University, where he was Professor of Physics from 1980-1987. He is the author of nearly two hundred scientific papers as well as a co-author of SUPERSTRING THEORY, published by Cambridge University Press.


Professor Witten is the recipient of many honors and awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship (1982); the Einstein Medal of the Einstein Society of Berne, Switzerland (1985); the Dirac Medal of the International Center for Theoretical Physics (1985); the Alan T. Waterman Award of the National Science Foundation (1986); and the Madison Medal of Princeton University (1992). He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Physical Society, and he is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is the author of more than two hundred scientific papers.

Documentary Description

About the Series

Imagine sitting down for a one-on-one discussion about the theory of relativity with Albert Einstein himself. Today, the intellectual descendents of Einstein can be found at work at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Comprising some of the world's most visionary thinkers, these dynamic scholars are mapping the frontiers of knowledge, their research driven not by commercial applications, but by a passion to unravel the most puzzling enigmas of life itself.


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