Stanford physicist Renata Kallosh honored as part of University of Groningen’s 400th anniversary celebration

June 25th, 2014

Physics Professor RENATA KALLOSH has been awarded a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, as part of its 400th anniversary celebrations.

The university announced that Kallosh was nominated for the honor by the faculty of mathematics and natural sciences there because of her “great influence on the field of theoretical physics and because she is an inspiration to a whole generation.”

Kallosh is well known for her contributions to theoretical physics, particularly to string theory. A video commissioned by Groningen to highlight her work, however, focused more on one of her accomplishments as a teacher. She explains that she had to teach classical mechanics, and decided to find modern parallels to make the lesson more relevant. In doing so, she learned more about a dynamical system, called the “attractor mechanism,” that explains many phenomena.

“It’s when the system ‘forgets’ the initial condition and goes into the situation that is generic, independent of where it started,” Kallosh says in the video. As she began to study the mechanism further, she realized it held up outside of classical mechanics, in particular in the worlds of economics and medicine. “This is what stabilizes heartbeats. Something happened, and then you have a regular heartbeat.”

She soon realized that the same principles applied to her research in supersymmetry theory, string theory and black holes,. By incorporating this in her work, she made advances and discoveries that have had lasting impact on the field of theoretical physics. In the video, she humbly remarks of her achievement that she was “just trying to improve the intellectual quality of my teaching.”

— BY BJORN CAREY