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David Gross


“It seemed to me extraordinary, the prospect that one could dedicate an entire lifetime trying to unravel the secrets of the universe"

All the protons and neutrons in this universe are made up of quarks, tiny particles shrouded in mystery. They always arrange themselves in threes and attract each other more forcefully when they are further apart rather than when closer together. They are "distracted but inseparable lovers: they cannot stay far away from each other, but when they are together, they practically ignore each other". In 2004, along with Plitzer and Wilczek, Gross won the Nobel Prize for Physics for the discovery of the asymptotic freedom of quarks in quantum chromodynamics.


David J. Gross was born in Washington in 1941, the eldest of four brothers. His father, Bertram Myron Gross, was a political scientist who had played a major role in defining the "New Deal" in the USA. At aged 13, he decided to become a theoretical physicist. After graduating in mathematics from Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1962, he went on to earn a PhD in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley, under the supervision of Geoffrey Chew. He was a Junior Fellow in Physics at Harvard for a year before moving to Princeton University in 1969 where he became a professor in 1971 and remained until 1997. It was there, in 1973 with his student Frank Wilczek, that he discovered asymptotic freedom in quantum chromodynamics. His collaboration with Wilczek was no accident as his method of teaching involved getting his students to be part of solving the most taxing problems, just as his parents had done, treating him like an adult and discussing complex problems and ideas with the entire family each evening. Asymptotic freedom explained why interaction between quarks was extremely weak when close, but grew stronger as the distance increased, up to the outer limits, where quarks should have behaved like free particles. In 1985, with Harvey, Martinec and Rohm, he formulated the theory of the heterotic string, a hybrid of the bosonic string and superstring, thus completing the theoretical framework for the so-called Standard Model. In 1996, he took on the role he still holds as Director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at California University, Santa Barbara. The discovery of asymptotic freedom earned him a Fellowship of the MacArthur Foundation in 1987, the Dirac Medal in 1988 and the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2004 along with his colleague Wilczek and H. David Politzer, a physicist who had carried out the research independently. In the same year as winning his Nobel, he was awarded the Grande Médaille D'Or by the French Academy of Sciences. He is a member of various prestigious academic bodies, including the American Academy of Art and Sciences, the Institute for Advanced Studies, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Physical Society. His primary hobby is fishing. He once caught a bluegill weighing nearly 3 pounds in Cristal Lake, Florida, just missing the State record.



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