December 29, 2009
Discovering the Mathematical Laws of Nature
Claudia Dreifus interviews Frank A. Wilczek in the New York Times:
He is good-natured, funny and thought to be among the smartest men in physics: Frank A. Wilczek, 58, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was one of three winners of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics. The award came for work Dr. Wilczek had done in his 20s, with David Gross of Princeton, on quantum chromodynamics, a theoretical advance that is part of the foundation of modern physics. Here is an edited version of two conversations with Dr. Wilczek, in October and this month.
Q. THE DISCOVERY THAT YOU WON THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR — YOU DID THAT AT THE AGE OF 21, RIGHT?
A. It was my doctoral thesis. In the early 1970s, I was doing graduate work in mathematics at Princeton, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a mathematician. Luckily, their math building is connected to the physics building. And I somehow drifted over there and met David Gross.
There were a lot of really interesting things happening in physics at that time. Once I started in that direction, there was no looking back. I discovered I was really good at theoretical physics and that there were all sorts of things I could do. One idea came after another.
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