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Joe Polchinski Memorial Lecture

ICTP launches annual talk honouring renowned physicist

Joe Polchinski (photo credit: Sonia Fernandez, UCSB Public Affairs and Communications)
Joe Polchinski (photo credit: Sonia Fernandez, UCSB Public Affairs and Communications)


ICTP honoured the work of physics great Joe Polchinski in a memorial lecture series launched 4 April.

The Joe Polchinski Memorial Lecture took place in ICTP's Budinich Lecture Hall. Titled “A Brief History of Branes”, it covered Polchinski’s work concerning supermembranes, T-Duality, and his discovery of D-branes. The lecture was given by Professor Paul Townsend from the University of Cambridge, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, UK.

The lecture was recorded and can be viewed here.

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.

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 and 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."

Related link:

News From ICTP, Interview with 2008 Dirac Winners