Simons Investigator Steven Gubser (1972‑2019)

Steven Scott Gubser, a professor of physics at Princeton University and an outstanding scholar of string theory and black holes, died as a result of a mountain-climbing accident on Saturday, August 3, in Chamonix, France.

Gubser was born in Tulsa, Okla., on May 4, 1972. Soon after, his family relocated to Aspen, Colo. Gubser attended secondary schools in Aspen and in Denver and quickly established himself as a star student of physics, mathematics and chemistry. As a member of the U.S. team at the 1989 International Physics Olympiad held in Warsaw, Poland, Gubser achieved the top individual score. This was a preview of his highly successful career as a theoretical physicist, which was cut short so tragically.

Gubser enrolled at Princeton University in 1990. He excelled in his studies of physics and other subjects, and he graduated in 1994 as the valedictorian of his class. For his senior thesis, he was awarded the LeRoy Apker Award of the American Physical Society, its highest distinction for undergraduate research. After completing a one-year master’s program at the University of Cambridge, Gubser returned to Princeton in 1995 as a graduate student and obtained his Ph.D. in 1998. Gubser’s outstanding graduate research during that period included the original and highly influential papers on exact relations between string theory and quantum field theory, which have continued to reverberate for more than 20 years since their publication. In particular, Gubser’s work with Igor Klebanov and Alexander Polyakov, and the independent work by Edward Witten, have contributed to the foundations of the Anti-de Sitter/Conformal Field Theory (AdS/CFT) correspondence through the formulation of the GKPW dictionary.

After two years as a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, Gubser returned to Princeton as a faculty member. He was on leave at Caltech in 2001 and returned to Princeton in 2002, becoming a full professor in 2005. Gubser’s research since that time has broken new ground on the connections between theoretical models of black holes and the real-world many-body systems, such as the quark-gluon plasma produced at the heavy-ion colliders. His work has also shed new light on the mysterious aspects of superconductors with high critical temperature. In 2016 Gubser pioneered a p-adic version of the AdS/CFT correspondence, where the bulk geometry is a tree graph.

Gubser received a number of awards and honors for his research. They include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Blavatnik Award, and a Gribov Medal of the European Physical Society. In 2017 he was selected by the Simons Foundation as a Simons Investigator.

In addition to being a prolific scientist, Gubser dedicated his talents to communicating his research accomplishments to the general public. Among Gubser’s popular books are “The Little Book of String Theory,” published in 2010, and “The Little Book of Black Holes,” published in collaboration with Frans Pretorius in 2017. Both books have been highly successful in communicating abstract theoretical ideas to general audiences, attracting a worldwide readership.

Steven Scott Gubser is survived by his wife, Laura Landweber, and their daughters, Cecily, Heidi and Lillian.

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