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Stony Brook Professor Shares $3M Breakthrough Prize

Stony Brook University professor Peter van Nieuwenhuizen is a recipient along with two other theorists sharing a $3M physics prize.
Stony Brook University professor Peter van Nieuwenhuizen is a recipient along with two other theorists sharing a $3M physics prize. Photo Credit: Stony Brook University

A Stony Brook University professor will share a $3 million breakthrough physics prize.

Professor of physics Peter van Nieuwenhuizen is one of three recipients of the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

He is recognized along with Sergio Ferrara of CERN and Daniel Z. Freedman of MIT and Stanford University for their “invention of supergravity, in which quantum variables are part of the description of the geometry of spacetime," according to Stony Brook University.

Freedman was on the university faculty at the time of the 1976 discovery.

The theorists are architects of supergravity, a highly influential 1976 theory that successfully integrated the force of gravity into a particular kind of quantum field theory (a theory that describes the fundamental particles and forces of nature in terms of fields embodying the laws of quantum mechanics).

Van Nieuwenhuizen’s research area is quantum field theory with applications to supergravity, supersymmetry, and string theory.

Supergravity has had a powerful influence on theoretical physics since its discovery.

It showed that supersymmetry was capable of accounting for all the phenomena we see in the real world, including gravity.

It represented a completion of the current understanding of particle physics - a rigorous mathematical answer to the question, “What theories of nature are compatible with the principles of both quantum mechanics and special relativity?”

And it provided a foundation for the attempt - still ongoing - to build a full theory of quantum gravity that describes space and time at a fundamental level.

Edward Witten, the chair of the Selection Committee, said, “The discovery of supergravity was the beginning of including quantum variables in describing the dynamics of spacetime. It is quite striking that Einstein’s equations admit the generalization that we know as supergravity.”

The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizes individuals who have made profound contributions to human knowledge.

Van Nieuwenhuizen received his Ph.D. from Utrecht University in 1971.

In 1993, he was awarded the Dirac Medal and Prize along with Ferrara and Freedman and was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1994.

In 2005, van Nieuwenhuizen was awarded the Heineman Prize along with Ferrara and Freedman. He lives in Stony Brook

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