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In Memoriam

Joseph Polchinski

09/02/2018 - Trieste

ICTP was saddened to learn of the passing of Joseph Polchinski, a prominent theoretical physicist and longtime friend of the Centre.

Polchinski was a professor at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  His great contributions to theoretical physics, including the discovery of D-branes –– a type of membrane in string theory –– have led to advances in the understanding of string theory and quantum gravity. In 2008, he shared ICTP's Dirac Medal with Juan Maldacena and Cumrun Vafa for their fundamental contributions to superstring theory.  According to their award citation, the three scientists’ profound achievements have helped to address outstanding questions like confinement of quarks and QCD mass spectrum from a new perspective and have found applications in practical calculations.

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  Joseph Polchinski (back row, far left) at ICTP's "After 45" celebrations in 2010.  

In addition to the Dirac Medal, Polchinski was awarded the American Physical Society's 2007 Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics, the Milner Foundation's Physics Frontiers Prize in 2013 and 2014, as well as the 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

Polchinski was a regular presence at ICTP, not only as a lecturer at numerous ICTP conferences in Trieste band abroad, but also as a member of its Dirac Medal selection committee.

His work touched the lives of many ICTP scientists, from the hundreds who attended his lectures to those who worked directly with him. One of them was ICTP Director Fernando Quevedo, who recalled, "He was very close to me since the time I was a student. He was my lecturer and guided me in many ways. He had a unique combination of kindness, generosity and at the same time had one of the best minds in the world."

Quevedo added, "His legacy in physics will remain, as he has approached deep questions in physics with originality and has made so many important contributions in field theory, string theory, black hole physics and cosmology. He will be deeply missed."

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