November 9, 2009

Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (IPMU)

The Nishina Memorial Foundation announced that Hirosi Ooguri, IPMU Principal Investigator and Fred Kavli Professor of California Institute of Technology, is a recipient of the 2009 Nishina Memorial Prize. This is the oldest and most prestigious physics award in Japan.

The past winners of the Nishina Prize include the 4 Nobel Laureates in physics: Leo Esaki, Masatoshi Koshiba, Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa.

Since 1955, the Prize has been awarded annually by the Nishina Memorial Foundation. The Foundation was established to commemorate Yoshio Nishina, who was the founding father of modern physics research in Japan and a mentor of the first 2 Japanese Nobel Laureates, Hideki Yukawa and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. This year’s award ceremony will take place on December 4 at the historic Tokyo Kaikan adjacent to the Imperial Palace. All the past winners of the prize are invited to attend the ceremony, and it will be a gathering of leading physicists in Japan.

Ooguri will be awarded the Nishina Memorial Prize for his work on topological string theory.

Superstring theory is the only promising candidate for the ultimate unified theory of Einstein’s general relativity and quantum mechanics. Topological string theory is obtained by simplifying superstring theory by a certain procedure. Ooguri and his collaborators established the foundation of topological string theory, developed its computational techniques, and discovered the relation between topological string theory and superstring theory. This made it possible for them to carry out superstring computation that had been regarded as impossibly difficult using existing techniques.

Moreover he and his collaborators used topological string theory to provide deep insight into quantum states of black holes. Nishina Memorial Foundation called his achievements as extremely important in order to find out whether superstring theory can make predictions that can be tested by experiments at high energy accelerators.

Only 2 years after receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1984, Ooguri was already accomplished enough to be appointed as an Assistant Professor of University of Tokyo without Ph.D.. After spending a year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, he became an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago, where he shared a floor with the 2008 Nobel Laureate, Yoichiro Nambu.

For 4 years he worked at the Research Institute for Mathematical Sciences at Kyoto University, and interacted with the most talented mathematicians from Japan and around the world. In 1994, he was appointed as one of the youngest full professors in history at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2000, he settled at Caltech, where John Schwarz started the string theory revolution back in 1984.

Since Oct 2007, he also serves as a principal investigator of IPMU. He is widely regarded as one of the world leaders in string theory, in particular at the intersection of geometry and physics. In 2008, he shared the inaugural Leonardo Eisenbud Prize for Mathematics and Physics from the American Mathematical Society with Andrew Strominger and Cumrun Vafa. In 2009, he received the Humboldt Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

“I was surprised to hear the news,” says Ooguri. “It is a wonderful honor, and it is encouraging for those of us who are trying to develop new mathematics to understand the physics in the 21st century.” He points out that the official description of the prize says that it is awarded to those in relatively young ages. “I think it means that the prize is not just in recognition of the past work, but it is an expectation for more to come. I hope to live up to the expectation by pursuing my work vigorously at IPMU.” Hitoshi Murayama, Director of IPMU, remarks “I’ve always watched Hirosi with awe since my days as a graduate student when he was an Assistant Professor. This is a well-deserved prize to an obvious candidate who truly pushed the frontier at the interface of physics and mathematics, the central theme for IPMU. This is a happy day for all of us at IPMU.”

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