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Noted physicists awarded Dirac Medal

Ceremony honours work related to string theory

ICTP presented its Dirac Medal to the winners of the 2008 prize at a ceremony held on 26 March at the Centre.

The 2008 recipients  -- Juan Martín Maldacena of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; Joseph Polchinski of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of California at Santa Barbara; and Cumrun Vafa of Harvard University, who could not attend yesterday's ceremony -- were honoured for their fundamental contributions to string theory, a theory proposing that the fundamental unit of nature is a vibrating string.

In his opening remarks, ICTP Director K. R. Sreenivasan highlighted the fact that several Dirac medallists have gone on to win the Wolf Prize or the Nobel Prize.  

Dr. Maldacena and Dr. Polchinski each gave brief lectures related to their work. Both included broad overviews of string theory basics, with Dr. Polchinski noting the importance of "thought experiments" to help physicists make advances in the field. He said that physicists are excited about future experiments using particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, where some of these "thought experiments" could be validated.

Dr. Maldacena, who was born in Buenos Aires, also spoke about ICTP's important influence on physics in Argentina, noting that many of his professors had spent time at the Centre. Dr. Maldacena himself has participated in ICTP training programmes and was a director of the Spring School on String Theory for four years.

The Dirac Medal is given in honour of P.A.M. Dirac, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century and a staunch friend of ICTP, to scientists who have made significant contributions to physics. Recipients are announced annually on Dirac's birthday, 8 August. The Medallists also receive a prize of US $5,000.


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