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Interview with John H. Schwarz

Schwarz, John H. (2002) Interview with John H. Schwarz. [Oral History]

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An interview in two sessions, July 2000, with John H. Schwarz, Harold Brown Professor of Theoretical Physics in the Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy. Dr. Schwarz majored in mathematics at Harvard (BA, 1962) and then went to UC Berkeley for graduate work in theoretical physics. He offers recollections of his advisor, Geoffrey Chew; working on S-matrix theory; sharing an office with another future string theorist, David J. Gross. After receiving his PhD in 1966, he became an instructor at Princeton, where in 1969 he began work on string theory, prompted by 1968 paper by Gabriele Veneziano. He comments on early years of string theory, his collaboration with André Neveu and Joël Scherk, Murray Gell-Mann's interest in the work, being denied tenure at Princeton and invited to come to Caltech as a research associate. General lack of interest in string theory in 1970s. Scherk and Schwarz continue working on it and note that the graviton shows up in the theory, suggesting a way to reconcile quantum theory and general relativity; they publish in 1974 and 1975, but papers are largely ignored. In August 1979, he begins collaboration with Michael Green at CERN and later at Caltech and the Aspen Center for Physics. By now there are several string theories, but all are plagued with anomalies; he describes their breakthrough elimination of anomalies in 1984 at Aspen and his announcement of it at the Aspen physics cabaret. Comments on sudden burst of interest in string theory, especially at Princeton, and the involvement of Edward Witten. Shortly thereafter, Schwarz is made a full professor at Caltech. Comments on the antipathy of Sheldon Glashow toward string theory and on his own dislike of the phrase "theory of everything;" on the latter-day history of string theory; problem of existence of five consistent superstring theories; talk by Witten at strings conference, USC, 1995, when it was recognized that the five are part of one underlying theory; discussion of "M" theory and membranes. Comments on annual string conferences, on Witten's visit to Caltech, on joint Caltech-USC physics institute, on prospects for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and the development of a Supersymmetric Standard Model, on his receipt of the Dirac Medal from the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste in 1989 and his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1997.

Item Type:Oral History
Keywords:Physics, string theory
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_Schwarz_J
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Schwarz, John H. Interview by Sara Lippincott. Pasadena, California, July 21 and 26, 2000. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives. Retrieved [supply date of retrieval] from the World Wide Web:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
Subjects:Subjects > Physics
All Records
ID Code:116
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:12 Jan 2006
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:23

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