Sylvester James Gates, Jr.

Vice President

Biographical Summary

Sylvester James “Jim” Gates, Jr., a theoretical physicist, is currently the Ford Foundation Physics Professor and Affiliate Mathematics Professor at Brown University. He was born 15 December 1950, was raised in the U.S.A. and Canada. His degrees are from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (physics B.S. 1973/math B.S. 1973/ physics Ph.D. 1977). His doctoral thesis was M.I.T.’s first on supersymmetry. He held postdoctoral positions at Harvard and Caltech (1977-1982). In 1984, with M.T. Grisaru, M. Rocek, and W. Siegel, Gates co-authored “Superspace,” the first comprehensive book on the topic of supersymmetry. The year of 2018 marks the forty-sixth consecutive year of his university-level teaching in institutions as diverse as Caltech, Howard University, Gustavus Adophus College, M.I.T., and the University of Maryland.

Gates received the 2011 National Medal of Science, with a citation reading, “For his contribution to the mathematics of supersymmetry in particle, field, and string theories and his extraordinary efforts to engage the public on the beauty and wonder of fundamental physics.” In 2013, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and was recently elected to the council of the NAS.

He served as a General Councilor of the American Physical Society during 1997-2001 and he was the first recipient of the APS Bouchet Award in 1994. He is also a recipient of the AAAS’s Public Understanding of Science & Technology Award. Gates served on the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the National Commission on Forensic Science, and the Maryland State Board of Education in the period of 2009-2016. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is also a member of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Forensic Science Standards Board. Past advisory positions include service on the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee on Physics, the Department of Energy’s High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, the LIGO Operations and Scientific Research Sub-Panel and NSF Review Committee, the LIGO Director's Physics Advisory Committee, and the Board of Trustees of the Society for Science & the Public. He is an alumnus of the Defense Science Study Group. His 2015 essay “Thoughts On Creativity, Diversity and Innovation in Science & Education” was cited in the Supreme Court decision known as “Fisher v. Texas.”

Having contributed to over a dozen programs, he continues to broadly appear in documentaries and most recently, "Inside CERN." Also he has been called by BBC America to comment upon the discovery of gravitational radiation, and the career of Stephen Hawking. Jim has created content for the public. In 2017, with Frank Blitzer and Stephen Sekula, he co-authored “Reality in the Shadows (Or) What the Heck's the Higgs?” In 2006, he completed “Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality,” 24 half-hour DVD’s to make the complexities of modern theory accessible to non-physicists.

Sylvester James Gates, Jr. photo


The power of physics, revealing accurate evidence about energy, matter, space, and time while bringing these into the realm of human comprehension, lies at the heart of increasing the bountiful life experience for members of our species. Our discipline embodies a call to use logical and rational effort to accurately assay objective reality without regard to one's emotions or prejudices. We believe these values extend beyond the boundary of the field. Though the successes of the field span at least forty orders of magnitude by some measures, paradoxically it now faces an array of challenges.

On the technical side these challenges continue to be brilliantly met with dazzling new results being presented from the detection of gravitational waves and the Higgs Boson, to the binding of precisely two atoms of elements to form a single molecule, the harnessing of Majorana fermions in the quest for quantum computers, and the use of Big Data and information technology to explore previously forbidden landscape of data analysis. The list of stunning alternatives to these noted is far too long to list. Our field shows healthy sign in its ability to explore and observe ever more distant horizons.

However, attendant to this is the challenge of maintaining the engagement and support from our general society. An important part of the support is financial. It is our obligation to show a return on this investment by demonstrating our goals include ones of service to the health and well being of that very society. Appropriate transparency in showing this must be a high priority. A vital component of this must be our continuous improvement as effective communicators in realms from thought leaders, policy-makers to the public. As an organization that draws greater than fifty thousand members from the realms of academia, national laboratories, and corporate domains, the Society must be the voice for these and the discipline. It needs to afford its membership opportunities to successfully engage this challenge. I hope to bring to bear my experiences to project this voice and represent our community.

In our changing environment, the issue of the increased role of global partners cannot be understated. In the face of future mega-projects important for the progress of physics, the most likely sources of support for such efforts appear to rely on a basis of international partnerships. I believe APS should foster the continuation and enhancement of these. We should also be engaged in the deliberative renewal of our field in diverse new ways. Statistics about the demographics of our nation show a state of transition. As a professional society, we can ill afford to neglect potential new sources of participation while being locked in a pattern of underutilization of talent. Our Offices of Government Affairs (OGA), International Affairs, Education and Diversity, and Outreach must be used as sources of guidance and inspiration.

The archival value of our journal publications are a treasure trove and have long provided foundational means to document advances in the disciplines that have an impact in the broadest possible way. APS must continue to use these vehicles while adapting to evolving and sustainable modes for effective communication via modern communication technology. We can only succeed by facing the new world of the open access on-line environment.

I am extremely honored to stand for nomination as a candidate for the vice-presidency. I need only look at the list of past APS presidents to see among them accomplished scientific giants, luminaries, and even some of my own scientific heroes and heroines. It is a humbling experience to be considered among such company. I am asking every member of APS for their vote.

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