Keynote Address Speaker (2017)
By Professor Sylvester James Gates, Ph.D.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
7:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m., O'Donnell Hall, Whitlock Building
“What unique perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked this question in the Supreme Court case A. Fisher v. the University of Texas about university admission policies regarding minority students. In this lecture, Professor Gates will respond to this question, drawing on Albert Einstein’s perspective on race in America, as well as Gates’ own personal academic journey, and his national prominence around issues of diversity and inclusivity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
Sylvester James “Jim” Gates, Jr., (born December 15, 1950) is an American theoretical physicist bestowed in 1973 with two B.S. degrees (math & physics) and a Ph.D. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the latter in 1977. His doctoral thesis was the first one at MIT to deal with supersymmetry. Gates was formerly a University System Regents Professor, the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Director of the String and Particle Theory Center, Affiliate Professor of Mathematics, and served on the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, National Commission on Forensic Science, and on the Maryland State Board of Education.
After 33 years at the University of Maryland, he retired in 2017 to assume the position of the "Ford Foundation Professor of Physics" at Brown University. His involvement in public policy continued with service on the Forensic Science Standards Board at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His public policy writing on diversity and education were cited in 2015 by the U.S. Supreme Court http://mitblackhistory.blogspot.com/2016/07/supreme-decisions-dr-sylvester-james.html in a rarity for a theoretical physicist.
He is scientifically known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. In 1984, working with M.T. Grisaru, M. Rocek, W. Siegel, Gates co-authored Superspace, the first comprehensive book on the topic of supersymmetry.
In 2006, he completed a DVD series titled Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality for The Teaching Company composed of 24 half-hour lectures to make the complexities of unification theory comprehensible to non-physicists. In 2012, he was named a University System of Maryland Regents Professor, only the sixth person so recognized in the system’s history. He is a past president of the National Society of Black Physicists, and is a NSBP Fellow, as well as a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Physics in the U.K. He also is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. In 2013, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, becoming the first African-American physicist so recognized in its 150-year history. On November 16, 2013, Prof. Gates was awarded the Mendel Medal by Villanova University “in recognition of his influential work in supersymmetry, supergravity and string theory, as well as his advocacy for science and science education in the United States and abroad.” President Obama awarded Prof. Gates the National Medal of Science, the highest award given to scientists in the U.S., at a White House ceremony in 2013. During 2014, he was named the Harvard Foundation’s ‘‘Scientist of the Year.’’
In 2015, he became a member of the Board of Directors of the Achieve, Inc and the Board of Councillors for the Boy Scout of America’s STEM National Council. He continues to broadly engage video documentaries with appearance or cameos in the following in 2015 and 2016:
- “The Big Bang Machine” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqTcJFsN3gw,
- “The Mystery of Matter” http://www.pbs.org/program/mystery-matter/,
- "Inside CERN" http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0446wyj.
He currently continues his research in supersymmetry in systems of particles, fields, and strings.