Eighteenth Lucasian Prof installed

Beatrice Ramsay - News Reporter 27 October 2009

Professor Stephen Hawking is to be replaced in one of Cambridge’s most prestigious academic posts by a fellow physicist and pioneer of string theory.

Michael Green, 63, has been appointed to the illustrious position of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, following a vote at the University this month. He will be the 18th holder of a post created in 1663 and which has previously been occupied by some of the greatest figures in the history of science, including Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Babbage and Paul Dirac.

The post was left unoccupied when Professor Hawking retired at the start of October in accordance with rules stipulating that the Lucasian Professor must resign at the age of 67. Having held the post for 30 years, Professor Hawking will take up a new role as director of research at the University’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics.

Professor Green, who since 1993 has held the John Humphrey Plummer Professorship of Theoretical Physics at Cambridge, is celebrated primarily as a member of the group known as the ‘string quartet.’ This group of physicists was the first to formulate the complex quantum theory of gravity known as ‘string theory,’ which posits that the universe is made up of ten dimensions and vibrating strings of energy.

String theory, which Professor Green has worked on since the 1970s, is generally regarded as the most plausible hypothesis to date with the potential to unify two fundamental physical theories of the early twentieth century: quantum theory and Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Peter Haynes, head of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, said that Green had “played a leading role in theoretical physics research in the department since 1993,” and was “internationally known as a pioneer in string theory, which over the last 20 years has become one of the most important and active areas of theoretical physics.”

Haynes also said that the “very distinguished tradition” of the post of Lucasian Professor would be upheld by Professor Green, who continues to “make important advances” in string theory, “and at the same time to support and inspire young researchers.”

Professor Green will be an extremely worthy successor of Professor Hawking: elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1989, Green’s contributions to mathematics and physics have been acknowledged by numerous awards, such as the Dannie Heinemann Prize by the American Physical Society and the Dirac Medal and Prize of the UK Institute of Physics.

Professor Green will take up his position on 1 November.

Beatrice Ramsay – News Reporter