A distinguished theoretical physicist who pioneered String Theory has been elected the 18th holder of the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, succeeding Stephen Hawking, who stepped down as Lucasian Professor on 30 September.

Professor Michael Green FRS currently holds the John Humphrey Plummer Professorship of Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge.

He is one of the founders of string theory, generally regarded as the most successful candidate to date to unify quantum theory and general relativity, the two fundamental physical theories of the early twentieth century, and thereby formulate a consistent quantum theory of gravity.

String theory, which is formulated in ten dimensions with the extra dimensions 'compactified' at very high energy, has met with many successes over the years. It has, for example, been shown to contain all the known particles of the so-called standard model of particle physics.

Michael Green was a pioneer of string theory from the early seventies onwards. However at that stage the theory contained difficult inconsistencies and many gave up trying to develop it, turning instead to easier problems.

Green continued and his determination paid off when in 1984, with John Schwarz of the California Institute of Technology, he discovered 'anomaly cancellation'. This quickly convinced the theoretical physics community of the viability of string theory, transformed it into an active and productive field of research and led to the explosion of interest in string theory that continues today.

Since his seminal work in 1984 Professor Green has continued to lead the development of string theory. An early contribution was his 1987 textbook on string theory written with Schwarz and Edward Witten. This was for many years the only textbook on the subject and is still in widespread use today. He has also personally made many further important research contributions.

Peter Haynes, Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, said: “Michael Green has played a leading role in theoretical physics research in the Department since 1993. He is internationally known as a pioneer in string theory which over the last 20 years has become one of the most important and active areas of the field.

“In the Department he continues to make important advances in this topic and at the same time to support and inspire young researchers. His appointment as Lucasian Professor continues the very distinguished tradition of that post.”

The Lucasian Professorship has an exceptionally long and distinguished history, established in 1663 and with previous holders including Isaac Newton (1669-1702), and, more recently, Paul Dirac (1932-1969), James Lighthill (1969-1979) and Stephen Hawking (1979-2009).

Professor Hawking stepped down from the Professorship in the year of his 67th birthday, as University Statutes require. In his new role as Director of Research, he will continue to lead research efforts in cosmology and gravitation within DAMTP, with substantial support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Professor Green will take up the Lucasian Professorship on 1 November 2009.

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