This award funds the research activities of Professor Cumrun Vafa at Harvard University.
How does the world work at the deepest levels, and why does the it work in the way that it does? These are some of the questions that have fascinated humankind since the beginning of time, and our search for answers has contributed enormously to the development of mathematics and physics as well as technology. Professor Vafa's research, motivated by deep puzzles such as the nature and strength of gravity and the nature of the recently-discovered Higgs boson, will continue to develop the boundaries between physics and mathematics. This work will also develop new analytical tools which may find applications far from theoretical particle physics and string theory. Thus, this research advances the national interest by promoting the progress of fundamental science. As part of this project, Professor Vafa will also continue to inspire talented young people to follow the difficult but crucial discipline of science.
More technically, Professor Vafa will extend his previous results by considering compactifying six-dimensional theories on various manifolds of diverse dimensions with suitable background fields turned on, with the goal of developing a classification of lower-dimensional CFT's. Professor Vafa will also revisit and expand upon an old conjecture of his. About 10 years ago Vafa proposed that most of the naively consistent-looking quantum-gravitational theories are actually inconsistent and do not arise in a consistent string compactification. Since then, considerable evidence has accumulated for this viewpoint. A notable example of this is the "weak gravity conjecture" (WGC) which was proposed by Vafa and collaborators and which states that in any consistent theory of quantum gravity, gravity must always be the weakest force. Evidence for the WGC has grown over the years, and recently Ooguri and Vafa proposed that a sharpened version of the WGC implies that supersymmetry is a key ingredient in the AdS/CFT duality. If true, this would have dramatic implications about the models of holography being pursued in condensed-matter systems and in heavy-ion collisions, as these systems do not typically exhibit supersymmetry. As part of the broader impacts of his research, Professor Vafa hopes to continue developing his freshman seminar course, "Physics, Math and Puzzles". This course aims to showcase deep principles of physics through simple mathematical puzzles, and has attracted an increased number of physics majors. Furthermore Professor Vafa is planning to convert the course to a book so that it will be accessible to a wider audience of potentially interested students of physics and mathematics. Finally, Professor Vafa plans to continue running the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics summer workshops at Stony Brook University. These annual workshops continue to have a deep impact in educating some of the best young minds interested in theoretical physics, especially in questions related to string theory and the nearby areas of condensed-matter physics and mathematics.