Professor of Physics, Co-Director, Presidential Scholars Program


When I was four and living in St. John's Newfoundland, Canada, I first heard the word "science," in relation to space travel.  It made a lasting impression so that when I was about eight years old and learning to read, my father brought home a book about space travel. In this book, I learned that the stars in the sky were not just lights but places to go and suddenly my universe became much larger, and I knew that science and technology were the way to get to those locations. In third grade, I came across Schrodinger's Equation, in the Encyclopedia Britannica and I was amazed. I knew it was mathematics because I saw an equal sign.  I also saw a bunch of symbols, Greek letters and partial derivatives, which I had no idea what they meant. I had a strange attraction to it because it was like looking at notes on a music bar, but not knowing how to read the music. I felt some affinity and said, gee I would like to one day know what that thing means. It was a series of experiences like those that sparked my interest in Physics and Mathematics.

However, it was my experience in a physics class in high school that really shaped my passion. I had a teacher who demonstrated how to determine the relationship between distance and the square of time. For me, this was an amazing experience. To this day, I like to say, "This is the only magic I have ever seen in the real world." It was like a mathematical game that described the way things move in the world around me, and I could make up the rules.  I immediately said "that is what I want to do," because I know how to make up stuff, so why not make up mathematical games and perhaps some of them may become real, and that could be fun!

Those experiences led me to pursue two B.S. degrees (mathematics & physics) and a Ph.D. degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. My doctoral thesis was the first thesis at MIT to deal with supersymmetry. I also completed my postgraduate studies at both Harvard University and the California Institute of Technology (CalTech). I was the University System Regents Professor, Distinguished University Professor, the John S. Toll Professor of Physics, and the Center for Particle & String Theory Director at the University of Maryland, College Park. I served on President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the Maryland State Board of Education (MD-BoE).

My primary work focuses on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. In 1984,  working with M.T. Grisaru, M. Rocek, W. Siegel, I co-authored Superspace, the first comprehensive book on the topic of supersymmetry. In 2006, I released, the book L'arte della Fisica (The Art of Physics), and have authored over 200 scientific publications.  My current research (the strangest and most exciting of my life -- at least to me) looks as though it is some combination theoretical physics, mathematics, network theory, computer science, and maybe even evolution and genetics. 

I am the past president of the National Society of Black Physicists and a NSBP Fellow. I am also a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute of Physics in the U.K. I am a member of the Board of Directors for Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and also serve as a Distinguished Research Chair at Canada's Perimeter Institute, and have been elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society.

To learn more about Professor Gates, please click here.