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Fri, 12.15.1950

S. James Gates Jr., Physicist born

S. James Gates Jr.

*S. James Gates Jr. was born on this date in 1950.  He is a Black theoretical physicist who works on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory.  

Sylvester James Gates Jr. is the oldest of four siblings; he was born in Tampa, Florida, the son of Sylvester James Gates, Sr., a career U.S. Army veteran, and Charlie Engels Gates. His mother died when he was 11. When his father remarried, his stepmother, a teacher, brought books into the home and emphasized the importance of education. The family moved many times while Gates was growing up, but as he entered 11th grade, he settled in Orlando, Florida, where he attended Jones High School, his first experience in a segregated Black school. Comparing his own school's quality to neighboring white schools, "I understood pretty quickly that the cards were really stacked against us." 

Nevertheless, an 11th-grade course in physics established Gates' career interest in that field, especially its mathematical side. At his father's urging, he applied for admission to MIT.  Gates received two BS degrees from MIT in Mathematics and Physics (1973) and his Ph.D. (1977). His doctoral thesis was the first at MIT on supersymmetry.  Gates co-authored Superspace, or One Thousand and One Lessons in supersymmetry (1984), the first comprehensive book on supersymmetry.  In 1994, Gates received the Edward A. Bouchet Award from the American Physical Society "for his contributions to theoretical high-energy physics."  

He has been featured extensively on NOVA PBS programs on physics, notably The Elegant Universe (2003). He completed a DVD series titled Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality (2006) for The Teaching Company consisting of 24 half-hour lectures to make the complexities of unification theory comprehensible to laypeople. During the 2008 World Science Festival, Gates narrated a ballet, "The Elegant Universe," where he gave a public presentation of the artistic forms connected to his scientific research.  The Department of Energy nominated Gates as one of the USA Science and Engineering Festival's "Nifty Fifty" Speakers to present his work and career to middle- and high school students in October 2010.  

Gates is on the board of trustees of the Society for Science & the Public and is active in scientific outreach.  Gates was a Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Scholar at MIT (2010–11) and was a Residential Scholar at MIT's Simmons Hall. He is pursuing ongoing research into string theory, supersymmetry, and supergravity at Brown University.  He appeared at the 2011 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate: The Theory of Everything, hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Gates also appeared in the BBC Horizon documentary The Hunt for Higgs in 2012 and the NOVA documentary Big Bang Machine in 2015.  

In 2013, Gates was a recipient of the National Medal of Science. Gates was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013.  On December 5, 2016, Gates spoke at the 2016 Quadrennial Physics Congress, the largest ever gathering of physics undergraduates.  He retired from the physics department and Center for Fundamental Physics at the University of Maryland College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences 2017. He is now the Brown Theoretical Physics Center Director, the Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, the Affiliate Professor of Mathematics, and the Watson Institute for International Studies & Public Affairs Faculty Fellow at Brown University. He was a University of Maryland Regents Professor and served on former President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. 

His work has earned him recognition by Mathematically Gifted & Black as a Black History Month 2017 Honoree.  His current research focuses on Adinkra symbols, a graph-theoretic technique for studying supersymmetric representation theories. In 2018, Gates was elected to the presidential line of the American Physical Society: he began serving as its Vice President in 2019 and will serve as President as of 2021.  

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