Perhaps no one is more surprised that UCSB physics professor Joseph Polchinski won the 2008 Dirac Medal than Polchinksi himself. He didn’t even know he had been nominated for the award, which honors those who have made significant advancement in the fields of theoretical physics, computational chemistry, or mathematics.

Polchinski, a member of UCSB’s Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, won this year’s award for his discovery that string theories are more complex than previously though and consist of more structures than just one-dimensional strings. “What about sheets and even higher-dimensional things?” Polchinski said in a press release. “It turns out these things are in there, too, in a somewhat different, non-obvious way.”

The Dirac Medal is named for Paul A.M. Dirac, a British physicist who discovered quantum mechanics. Polchinski, who modestly summed up his findings as “pretty neat,” will travel to the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, in March 2009, where he will collect both his medal and a cash prize. He will also lecture at the Centre next year.

“This is probably the highest honor I’ve ever received : and it may be the highest honor I’ll ever get,” said Polchinski in the press release.


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