Dijkgraaf Next Director of the Institute for Advanced Study

The IAS in Princeton announced today that Robbert Dijkgraaf will take over from Peter Goddard as director starting next summer.

Like Goddard, Dijkgraaf has devoted much of his career to string theory, more specifically the formal side of the subject, including conformal quantum field theories, topological quantum field theories, and their manifold interesting relationships to mathematical issues. Unlike Goddard, he’s from a later generation, getting his Ph.D. in 1989 and entering theoretical physics after string theory had begun to play a dominant role. His cohort of theorists who entered the subject as Young Turk revolutionaries riding the wave of string theory is now settling into the role of Grand Old Men.

Dijkgraaf is known as a masterful expositor, with pretty much any survey article by him you can find sure to be lucid and very much worth reading. He also has world-class political skills, recently overseeing the review of the IPCC, a topic putting him at the center of the religious war over climate change. His background makes him an ideal choice to lead an institution like the IAS, one with a great history in theoretical physics and mathematics, and an important ongoing role to play in keeping those subjects healthy.

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10 Responses to Dijkgraaf Next Director of the Institute for Advanced Study

  1. Marcus says:

    Here is a video
    http://loops05.aei.mpg.de/index_files/abstract_dijkgraaf.html
    of the invited plenary talk that Dijkgraaf gave at the Loops 2005 conference at the Einstein Institute (Potsdam MPI.)
    http://loops05.aei.mpg.de/
    The title of the talk was “Quantum geometry and topological strings”.

    I think this video illustrates what Peter said about excellent expository skill and it also gives a sense of the person (who may also be highly able politically, as was suggested.)

  2. Edward Pickman Derby says:

    Peter, the importance of the IAS has declined greatly in recent years. Why is the announcement of its next director news? Do you actually believe he can right the ship?

  3. cthulhu says:

    Declined in favor to what?

  4. Marcus says:

    *Peter, the importance of the IAS has declined greatly in recent years. Why is the announcement of its next director news? *

    I don’t know what Peter will say to this EPD, and I’m interested to hear his answer. But your question contains a non sequitur: it is precisely when such a notable institution’s importance has declined that the announcement of a new director is news.

    There may be a broader problem, not limited to the IAS. I see several areas of fundamental physics where the importance of US research has declined relative to Europe and Canada (happily not in cosmology though!) and I attribute this to a US leadership that is set in its ways and lacks fresh vision in these areas. Changes in leadership could be part of the solution.

  5. Peter Woit says:

    Edward,

    I don’t see the importance of the IAS as changing much at all in recent years. In math they’ve just hired away from Harvard Richard Taylor, who is about the best there is in number theory, and more generally they remain one of the great centers of math research. In physics they recently hired Arkani-Hamed, who arguably is the most influential theorist in his generation. They’re pretty heavily loaded down with string theorists these days (even more so bringing in Dijkgraaf, keeping Goddard as a professor), but the string theorists there are the best in the world, with no sympathy for nonsense like the landscape, and increasingly moving from string theory to other topics. Like everyone else in particle theory, I think they’re trying to find their way and waiting to see what the LHC says. But, like in math, the IAS has been and remains extremely influential in particle theory.

  6. Zakok Allen says:

    Peter, hate to interrupt the discussion (although this is not really off topic) but video of Witten’s talk on Knots and Quantum theory is up on the IAS website. Would love to hear your take on it.

  7. Peter Woit says:

    lun,

    What I wrote was carefully worded:

    “the string theorists there are the best in the world, with no sympathy for nonsense like the landscape”

    Arkani-Hamed is not a string theorist…

  8. Peter Woit says:

    Zakok,

    Thanks for pointing out the Witten talk. I think maybe it deserves its own posting, however short…

  9. Bobito says:

    Pickman Derby: to paraphrase Mark Twain: “the reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated”.

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