Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The next Stephen Hawking: string theory pioneer gets Cambridge post

Michael Green, one of the pioneers of string theory, takes prestigious role at University of Cambridge

Ian Sample, science correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 20 October 2009 13.45 BST
Article history

A Cambridge physicist who pioneered the idea that everything in the universe is made up of tiny vibrating strings of energy is to succeed Stephen Hawking in the most prestigious academic post in the world.

Professor Michael Green, a fellow of the Royal Society and co-founder of the fiendishly complex idea of string theory, was offered the position of Lucasian professor of mathematics following a meeting at the university this month.

Hawking stepped down from the position at the beginning of the month in accordance with Cambridge rules that stipulate the post must be vacated when the incumbent reaches their 67th birthday. Hawking had been in the job for 30 years. He is now director of research at the university's department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics.

The chair was created in 1664 and has been occupied by some of the greatest names in the history of science, with Sir Isaac Newton and Paul Dirac among Hawking's predecessors.

Green, who works in the same department as Hawking, played a major role in developing a form of string theory that describes all of the different types of particles in the universe and how they interact with each other.

Ahead of the official announcement, one scientist said it was an excellent appointment for a physicist who had been a driving force for string theory from the start.

Advocates of string theory believe it paves the way to understanding all of nature's forces, including electromagnetism, the strong force that holds atomic nuclei together, the weak force that governs certain forms of radiation, and gravity that keeps our feet on the ground and the Earth in orbit around the Sun.

Hawking occupied the position long before he rose to fame on the back of his bestseller, A Brief History of Time. During his time as Lucasian professor, he made appearances in The Simpsons and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also at the London lap dancing club, Stringfellows, a story covered by one newspaper under the headline: "Stringfellow theory".

Photo: Michael Green: succeeds Stephen Hawking. Photograph: Cambridge University

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