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Cumran Vafa

By Syed Aslam

vafaCumrun Vafa was born in Tehran, Iran in 1960 and graduated from Alborz Boys School. He came to the US in 1977 and completed  his undergraduate degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a major in physics and mathematics. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1985 under the supervision of Edward Witten. He then became a junior fellow at Harvard, where he later got a junior faculty position. In 1989 he was offered a senior faculty position, and he has been there ever since. Currently, he is the Donner Professor of Science at Harvard University.

Cumrun Vafa’s primary area of research is string theory. String theory, a subject that is about four decades old, is at the center of efforts by theoretical physicists to find a unified fundamental theory of nature. String theory provides a framework to unify everything we know about nature, including all particles and the forces between them, in a consistent quantum theory. This is an ambitious goal, given that it aims to describe physical phenomena involving scales 1025times smaller than the atom, as well as the cosmology of our entire universe, which involves a scale of about 1037times bigger than the atom. In a single theory, one studies the mysteries of confinement of quarks inside atomic nuclei, as well as enigmatic properties of astrophysical objects such as black holes.

Such an all-encompassing theory necessarily requires a tremendous amount of mathematical skill. In fact, most of the mathematics needed for string theory is not even yet developed. String theorists thus have the exciting task of building new mathematics as tools to explore new laws of physics. It is therefore not surprising that string theory is at the cross roads of many fields, including mathematics, particle phenomenology and astrophysics. Cumrun Vafa’s research has involved essentially all these aspects. Together with his colleagues he has worked on topological strings, trying to elucidate some new mathematics originating from string theory  and using these techniques to uncover some of the mysteries of black holes, particularly the Bekenstein-Hawking entropy. He has also applied these ideas to particle theories by geometrically engineering quantum field theories, as well as solving the strong coupling dynamics of confining theories  and geometrizing string theory defects.  His recent work involves applying these ideas to come up with stringy predictions about what the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) located at Franco – Swiss border may potentially discover in the near future.

Dr. Cumrun Vafa,  was elected as a new member of The National Academy of Sciences on April 28, 2009. Members are elected in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.


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