Essay about Edward Witten's Work Led to a Revolution
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Witten was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He is the son of Lorraine (Wollach) Witten and Louis Witten, a theoretical physicist specializing in gravitation and general relativity.
Witten attended the Park School of Baltimore (class of '68), and received his Bachelor of Arts with a major in history and minor in linguistics from Brandeis University in 1971. He published articles in The New Republic and The Nation. In 1968, Witten published an article in The Nation arguing that the New Left had no strategy. He worked briefly for George McGovern's presidential campaign. McGovern lost the 1972 election in a landslide to Richard Nixon.
Witten attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison for one semester as an economics graduate student before…show more content… In the late 1980s, Witten coined the term topological quantum field theory for a certain type of physical theory in which the expectation values of observable quantities encode information about the topology of spacetime. In particular, Witten realized that a physical theory now called Chern-Simons theory could provide a framework for understanding the mathematical theory of knots and 3-manifolds. Although Witten's work was based on the mathematically ill-defined notion of a Feynman path integral and was therefore not mathematically rigorous, mathematicians were able to systematically develop Witten's ideas, leading to the theory of Reshetikhin–Turaev invariants.
Another result for which Witten was awarded the Fields Medal was his (nonrigorous) proof in 1981 of the positive energy theorem in general relativity. This theorem asserts that (under appropriate assumptions) the total energy of a gravitating system is always positive and can be zero only if the geometry of spacetime is that of flat Minkowski space. It establishes Minkowski space as a stable ground state of the gravitational field. While the original proof of this result due to Richard Schoen and Shing-Tung Yau used variational methods, Witten's proof used ideas from supergravity theory to simplify the argument.
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