David Gross

American particle physicist and string theorist

David Jonathan Gross (born February 19, 1941) is an American theoretical physicist and string theorist. He was the winner, along with Frank Wilczek and David Politzer, of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics.

David Gross at construction works of the KITP.jpg


  • Traditionally, fundamental theories of nature have had a tendency to break down at short distances. This often signals the appearance of new physics that is discovered once one has experimental instruments of high enough resolution (energy) to explore the higher energy regime. Before asymptotic freedom it was expected that any quantum field theory would fail at sufficiently high energy, where the flaws of the renormalization procedure would appear. To deal with this, one would have to invoke some kind of fundamental length. In an asymptotically free theory this is not necessarily the case — the decrease of the effective coupling for large energy means that no new physics need arise at short distances. There are no infinities at all, the bare coupling is finite — indeed it vanishes. The only divergences that arise are an illusion that appears when one tries to compare, in perturbation theory, the finite effective coupling at finite distances with the vanishing effective coupling at infinitely short distances.
    Thus the discovery of asymptotic freedom greatly reassured one of the consistency of four-dimensional quantum field theory. One can trust renormalization theory for an asymptotically free theory, independent of the fact that perturbation theory is only an asymptotic expansion, where it gets better and better in the regime of short distances.
    • "Chapter 7. Asymptotic Freedom, Confinement and QCD" in History of original ideas and basic discoveries in particle physics, edited by Harvey B. Newman and Thomas Ypsilantis, NATO Advanced Research Workshop on the History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries in Particle Physics (1994 : Erice, Italy); New York: Plenum Press (1996); 2012 pbk preprint, p. 93
  • ... From the age of 13, I was attracted to physics and mathematics. My interest in these subjects derived mostly from popular science books that I read avidly. Early on I was fascinated by theoretical physics and determined to become a theoretical physicist. I had no real idea what that meant, but it seemed incredibly exciting to spend one's life attempting to find the secrets of the universe by using one's mind.
  • The universe has been expanding since the big bang, thus early on it was hot and dense. To trace the history of the universe we must understand the dynamics that operates when the universe was hot and particles were very energetic. Before the standard model we could not go back further than 200,000 years after the big bang. Today, especially since QCD simplifies at high energy, we can extrapolate to very eary times, where nucleons melt and quarks and gluons are liberated to form a quark-gluon plasma.
  • String theory was not invented to describe gravity; instead it originated in an attempt to describe the strong interactions, wherein mesons can be thought of as open strings with quarks at their ends. The fact that the theory automatically described closed strings as well, and that closed strings invariably produced gravitons and gravity, and that the resulting quantum theory of gravity was finite and consistent is one of the most appealing aspects of the theory.
  • Why is space-time doomed? There are many reasons, among which: In string theory we can change the dimension of space-time by changing the strength of the string force. Thus, the so-called II-A string theory, which semi-classically describes closed strings moving in ten-dimensional flat space for very weak coupling is dual for strong coupling to a theory, called M-theory, that at low energies is described by eleven-dimensional supergravity. By increasing the string coupling we can grow an extra dimension. How can the spatial continuum be fundamental if the number of spatial dimensions can be so changed?
  • Remarkably, the building of the Standard Model — the theory of how particles and forces interact — was the success of the conservatives. It required no revolution at the foundational level. Normal physics, the kind that goes on experiment after experiment, produced the Standard Model.
  • Physics is always a gamble; it is a game of exploration. That’s the fun of it. We never know for sure what will happen. Sometimes, we theorists can anticipate, but nature is the final judge.

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