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Stanford physicist shares prize for influential theory of supergravity

By August 11, 2019 No Comments
The Breakthrough Prize is awarded annually for achievements in fundamental physics, life sciences and mathematics. (Photo Courtesy of Breakthrough Prize)

A physicist with Stanford University ties will receive a share of the $3 million Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics this fall for his work on the 1976 theory of “supergravity,” the selection committee announced.

Daniel Z. Freedman, of Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will be honored along with fellow researchers Sergio Ferrara of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and Peter van Nieuwenhuizen of Stony Brook University in New York.

The Breakthrough Prizes, sponsored by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his spouse Priscilla Chan, among other investors, are awarded annually to the world’s top scientists in life sciences, mathematics and fundamental physics.

The special prize can be given at any time, even retroactively, and celebrates those who made profound contributions to human knowledge like Freedman, Ferrara and van Nieuwenhuizen.

“The discovery of supergravity was the beginning of including quantum variables in describing the dynamics of spacetime,” said Edward Witten, chairman of the selection committee.

Witten showed in 1981 that the theory could be used to simplify the proof for general relativity, initiating the integration of the theory into string theory.

Freedman, a visiting professor at Stanford, lives in Palo Alto with his wife Miriam.

The ceremony honoring the 2020 laureates will take place Nov. 3 at NASA’s Hangar One in Mountain View and will be broadcast live online.