Edward Witten is a celebrated contemporary American mathematician and a physicist. At the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, he is a professor of mathematical physics. He worked in the several domains of mathematical physics researching quantum field theory, quantum gravity and string theory. He is credited for further developing pure mathematics. He was awarded several accolades to honor his work to mathematics and physics.
Edward Witten was born on August 26, 1951 in Baltimore, Maryland, United States, to a Jewish family. His father, Louis Witten, was a prominent theoretical physicist whose forte was classical gravitation and general relativity. He received his secondary education from Park School of Baltimore. Upon completion of high school in 1968, he was enrolled at Brandeis University. There was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1971. He studied history as his major and linguistics as a minor subject. He did a stint as an article writer for newspapers like, The Nation and The New Republic. Another stint he did was for presidential campaign of George McGovern.
Subsequently, Witten resumed his academic career as he went to University of Wisconsin to study economics but after a semester he dropped out. Afterwards, he opted for applied mathematics as his major at Princeton University. In 1976, he was awarded a doctoral degree in Physics when he switched the field. His dissertation supervisor was a 2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics, David Gross. He received fellowship to several universities and institutions including Harvard University during mid-1970s and in 1977 he visited Oxford University. He was also granted a MacArthur Foundation fellowship and the Harvard Society of Fellows.
In 1979, Witten married a professor of physics at Princeton University, Chiara Nappi and they now have two daughters, a son and a granddaughter. Currently, one of the daughters, Ilana teaches at Princeton University as a neuroscientist. While the other daughter, Daniela, holds a position at University of Washington as a biostatistician. In 1990, the International Mathematical Union awarded him the Fields Medal which rendered him the first physicist to achieve the prize. A fellow scientist commented on Witten work as that he has more command over mathematics than any other subject and he possesses a unique ability to interpret physical ideas in mathematical form. He is also known for efficiently applying his knowledge of physics to mathematics while solving complex theorem.
Witten’s work is acknowledged as pure mathematics when he applied methods of quantum field theory to low-dimensional topology which is belongs to mathematical domain. Additionally, for a certain type of physical theory he coined a term ‘topological quantum field theory’. He stumbled upon a discovery, the mathematical theory of knots and 3-manifolds can be understood in the light of framework provided by Chern-Simons theory. His proof of the positive energy theorem in general relativity presented in 1981 was another reason why he was awarded the Field Award.
Besides these, Witten is recognized for his contribution and development of M-theory, Seiberg–Witten theory, Weinberg–Witten theorem, Vafa–Witten theorem and Witten index along with other major works. Among various accolades he received for his work some of them include Albert Einstein Medal (1985), Alan T. Waterman Award (1995), National Medal of Science (2002), Henri Poincaré Prize (2006) and Isaac Newton Medal (2010). Just recently he was awarded Albert Einstein Award (2016).