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Noted physicist questions reality and genetics

Feb. 6, 2009

KALAMAZOO--A world-renowned physicist and one of the nation's top experts on string theory returns to the Western Michigan University campus Monday, Feb. 16, to give a talk.

Dr. Sylvester J. Gates Jr., the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, is regarded as one of the foremost physicists in the world and is the first African-American to hold an endowed chair in physics at a major U.S. research university. He last spoke at WMU in April 2008.

His lecture, titled "Does Reality Have a Genetic Basis?" is from 6 to 8:30 p.m. in the Fetzer Center's Kirsch Auditorium and is free and open to the public. In addition to that lecture, he will speak earlier that day on "Fun at the Frontier of Physics" to area high school math and science students from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., also in Kirsch Auditorium.

Gates has authored or coauthored more than 120 research papers published in scientific journals and contributed to numerous articles in many others. His research lies in the areas of mathematical and theoretical physics of supersymmetric particles, fields and strings and covers such topics as quarks, leptons, gravity and superstrings, as well as Einsteins's unified field type theories.

Gates coauthored the 1983 book "Superspace, or One Thousand and One Lessons in Supersymmetry," which provided the only advanced treatment of supersymmetry for more than a decade. He also reached a wide audience through lectures, a popular 2007 DVD series titled "Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality" and numerous appearances in physics-related television programs airing on the Public Broadcasting Service.

Gates earned his bachelor's degrees in physics and mathematics in 1973 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctoral degree from MIT in 1977, with specialties in elementary particle physics and quantum field theory. Along with his other prestigious positions, he has served as the president of the National Society of Black Physicists.

In addition to his research accomplishments, Gates is known for his skill at communicating the ideas at the frontier of particle physics to a general audience. He has also spoken and written eloquently on issues of general education in science and mathematics, challenges of technical education for African-Americans and the issues of affirmative action, diversity and equity. He will also be speaking to a group of Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate students on Sunday, Feb. 15 on the subject of "Got Ph.D.? Now What?"

Gates' WMU visit is sponsored by The Graduate College, the WMU Department of Physics and Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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