9 November 2023
Photo: OFC LLC
On 8 November 2023, American physicist Edward Witten was awarded the Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics. The professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, USA, was recognized for his groundbreaking contributions to a unified mathematical description of fundamental forces of nature at the ceremony at the Hamburg Planetarium.
His outstanding research on string and quantum theory has had a profound impact on our understanding of space, time, matter, and the structure of the cosmos. The impact of his work extends well into other disciplines, especially mathematics. The award is presented by the Joachim Herz Foundation together with the Wolfgang Pauli Centre of DESY and Universität Hamburg, the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY and the Clusters of Excellence “CUI: Advanced Imaging of Matter” and “Quantum Universe” at Universität Hamburg.
“Edward Witten’s work paved the way for the development of string theory and quantum field theory. Furthermore, his extraordinary ability to apply abstract concepts from physics to mathematics places him as a towering figure at the crossroads of the two disciplines,” said Sabine Kunst, Chairwoman of the Joachim Herz Foundation, in recognition of the American scientist at the award ceremony. His research is closely linked to Science City Hamburg Bahrenfeld, especially to the Hamburg Center for Mathematical Physics. The Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics comes with a teaching and research residence in Hamburg, for which Edward Witten will come to the Hanseatic city in 2024.
Science Senator Katharina Fegebank: “Each year, the Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics attracts world-class researchers to Hamburg. The prize stands for innovation, open-mindedness and interdisciplinary work. Edward Witten’s insights are closely connected to the research undertaken at Science City Hamburg Bahrenfeld. I am excited about what new ideas and impulses come along with his stay here in Hamburg. Congratulations to the laureate and thanks to Joachim Herz Stiftung, Wolfgang Pauli Centre at DESY and Universität Hamburg for awarding this highly prestigious prize in Hamburg.”
Focus of Edward Witten’s research
Edward Witten ranks among the most renowned and frequently cited theoretical physicists of our time. For decades, he has been providing important momentum for the development of a grand unified theory of physics that describes all the forces and building blocks of the universe. String theory has been seen as a promising candidate for this as it builds a bridge between quantum theory and Einstein’s general theory of relativity. According to string theory, elementary particles like quarks and electrons are different oscillation forms of the same tiny string-like object. With this paradigm shift, which the professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton was very influential in driving, all four fundamental forces of nature can be described with a unified quantum string theory. Building on the work of numerous colleagues, in 1995, Edward Witten proposed a way to bring together all five variants of string theory as different limiting cases of one underlying theory
He has also generated important momentum in other areas of mathematical physics, from quantum field theory to condensed matter physics, sometimes with applications to gravity and astronomy. His work on topological quantum field theory, for example, paved the way for mathematicians to understand the geometric structures and regularities of knots in the late 1980s. Edward Witten has been the recipient of many awards, including being the first physicist to ever receive the Fields Medal in 1990.
The Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics
The Joachim Herz Foundation has been awarding the prize since 2010 together with the Wolfgang Pauli Centre of DESY and Universität Hamburg, the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY and the two Clusters of Excellence at Universität Hamburg: “CUI: Advanced Imaging of Matter” and “Quantum Universe”. The prize for outstanding research achievements in theoretical physics, endowed with 137,036 euros, is one of Germany’s highest endowed awards for physics. The amount of the prize money is a reference to Sommerfeld's fine-structure constant, which plays an important role in theoretical physics.