Nikita Nekrasov wins the 2023 Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics | | SBU news
Nikita Nekrasov, a professor at the Simmons Center for Engineering and Physics at Stony Brook University and the CN Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics, was awarded the 2023 Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics from the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and the American Physical Society.
Nekrasov received the prestigious award “for the elegant application of powerful mathematical techniques for extracting accurate results from quantum field theories, as well as for highlighting integrable systems and non-commutative geometry.”
The annual award is in recognition of significant contributions to the field of mathematical physics and will be presented at the upcoming APS meeting.
“We are very pleased that Professor Nekrasov has been awarded this much-deserved recognition – probably the highest in mathematical physics,” said Luis Alvarez Guam, director of the Simmons Center for Engineering and Physics. “He has made pioneering contributions to many areas of advanced quantum field theory, integrable systems, and in the use of powerful mathematical techniques to illuminate fairly deep areas of field theory and string theory. The Simons Center is a latecomer in the long tradition representing the fertile interaction between Physics and Mathematics over thousands of years. His work represents profound and important chapters in this ongoing mutual inspiration between these inseparable disciplines.”
Nekrasov used techniques from topology to solve important problems in theoretical physics, that is, to calculate the effects of the strong force that binds nuclei together.
Complex problems in quantum physics are often divided into two parts: an obvious solution to a simpler system, and a “perturbation” analysis that reflects the small difference of a realistic model from that simple system. As an example, in a simplified form, freely scattered particles sometimes meet and interact with other particles along their path. It is unlikely that there are many cascading interactions, which makes the perturbation terms mathematically manageable. However, some natural phenomena, such as extreme force, do not follow this rule and require a different approach.
“One needs to have a better understanding of how to account for extreme force effects,” Nekrasov said. “You’ve found a class of theorems for which you can do exactly that, but you have to introduce a new kind of mathematics: topology and non-commutative geometry.”
Mathematics can also be used for fully solvable models that describe the interactions of many objects, whether they are planets in the solar system, cold atoms, or electrons in the quantum Hall effect. Nekrasov discovered that, under the assumption of supersymmetry, the mathematics of strong interactions is the same as the mathematics that describes many particles that live on a line and interact with some repulsive force.
“Instead of trying to visualize quarks and gluons inside the nucleus of an atom, which we can’t see directly, you could set up a lab with quantum wires, do some measurements, and then try to translate that result into the realm of elementary particles,” Nekrasov said. “This is the amazing truth about physics and mathematics. There are unexpected connections between different fields.”
A native of Franco-Russian, Nekrasov grew up in Russia, where he became addicted to string theory and mathematical physics after reading an article from Scientific American by Professor Michael Green (received the 2002 Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics). He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard University as a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. After returning briefly to Princeton University as a Dick Fellow, he became a professor at the Institut d’Etudes Hautes Etudes en Sciences in France. Since 2013, he has been a professor at the Simmons Center for Engineering and Physics and the CN Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics, part of the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“It is such an honor to receive this award, and in a way it is a way to shake hands with so many of my heroes, the people who have inspired me in my work,” Nekrasov said.
Nekrasov hopes to continue to connect abstract mathematics with theoretical physics and is currently interested in finding applications of quantum field theory to number theory.
“We are delighted to honor Nikita Nekrasov with this award,” said Michael Moloney, CEO of AIP. “His work took abstract principles into mathematics and demonstrated that they are essential to theoretical physics, based on our basic knowledge of how the universe works – a meditation that has inspired generations of scientists.”
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