The Virginia Tech College of Science’s J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series will host its third virtual event with Brown University theoretical physicist S. James Gates Jr. presenting a talk.

Gates is the director of the Brown Theoretical Physics Center, the Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, an affiliated professor of mathematics, and a faculty fellow with the Watson Institute for International Studies and Public Affairs at Brown University. His talk is titled “From SyFy and Marvel Comics to Superstring Theory, Evolution, and the CMB.”

The online talk will take place at 7:30 p.m. March 28. Registration is required.

“Einstein once said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.’ This talk aims to illuminate this quote in the life of one scientist,” Gates said.

“Professor Gates is widely known for his scientific work in supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory, all theories that aim to understand the fundamental particles of nature and the forces that act between them,” said Mark Pitt, professor and chair of the Department of Physics, which is hosting Gates’ visit. “Beyond that, he has had significant impacts in the public policy arena, including work on science advising and public-school education. That multifaceted background will inform his public talk, so our community is in for an interesting evening.”

Prior to joining Brown University, Gates was on the faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park, as a University System Regents Professor, the John S. Toll Professor of Physics, directed the String and Particle Theory Center, and was an affiliate professor of mathematics. From 2009 to 2016, Gates served on both the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the Maryland State Board of Education. From 2013 to 2016, he served on the National Commission on Forensic Science.

Gates earned two bachelor of science degrees in 1973 and a Ph.D. in 1977, all from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his doctoral thesis was the institution’s first on the topic of supersymmetry. In 1984, Gates co-authored "Superspace," the first comprehensive book on supersymmetry.

He is a past president and fellow of the National Society of Black Physicists, and is a fellow and past president of the American Physical Society. He also is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute of Physics in the United Kingdom. He is also an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

In 2013, Gates was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, becoming the first African American theoretical physicist so recognized in the organization’s 150-year history. President Barack Obama awarded Gates the National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony, also in 2013.

The J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series at the College of Science at Virginia Tech is a forum for the exchange of new and innovative ideas in scientific fields. Discussions have delved into brain sciences, speech and hearing development, black holes, optical pulses, and more. Of the 14 speakers, three are Nobel Laureates.

In all, there have been 14 lectures, counting this new talk, since the series began in February 2017.

Generously supported by Mark and Debi Sowers, this series provides opportunities for the university community and general public to interact with and learn from eminent scholars and industry experts.

Sowers is a Richmond, Virginia-based businessman and developer and longtime supporter of the College of Science. He sponsors the series to share with others his fascination with the sciences, in particular, the physical sciences.

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