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Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James “Jim” Gates, Jr.

I am an actual research scientist who is still active discovering things that no one else in the world has found prior to my finding them… Excerpt from an Oral History Interview with Dr. S. James “Jim” Gates, Jr. on Presidents’ Day, February 21, 2022.

Dr. S. James Gates, Jr. is the Brown Theoretical Physics Center Director, Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, an Affiliate Mathematics Professor and a Faculty Fellow, Watson Institute for International Studies & Public Affairs at Brown University. He is the Clark Leadership Chair of Science at the University of Maryland with a joint appointment in the Department of Physics and the School of Public Policy. He is an American Theoretical Physicist, internationally known for his work in supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. Dr. Gates was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and is the first African American Theoretical Physicist recognized in the 150 year history of the organization. President Obama honored Dr. Gates with the National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony in 2013. In 2020, Dr. Gates and two graduate students used his previous methods and mathematical algorithms to solve an 11D supergravity problem that involved 4,294,967,296 functions. Dr. Gates is the recipient of the American Institute of Physics 2021 Andrew Gemant Award which he dedicated to Jones High School in Orlando, Florida. Jones High School Valedictorian Jim Gates, Jr. also offers an annual $1,000.00 award to the top student in math/science at Jones High School.   

We invite you to listen to this oral history interview with Florida native Jim Gates!

 

Listen:  Part I of V  (17:08)

 

 

Good morning, my name is Sylvester James Gates, Jr. I was born in Tampa, Florida on December the 15th, 1950. 

So you’re a Florida native.

Yes, Florida born.

Is that where you grew up?

No. My life as a child was extraordinarily complicated. I was born in Tampa. A year later, I have a brother who was born in Cocoa Beach. A year after that, I have a sister who was born in San Antonio, Texas. And two years after that, I had a younger brother born in St. John’s Newfoundland. So my father was in the U.S. Army during that period of my life and we were constantly moving with him. By the time that I was in sixth grade, I had been to six different schools. One each year, there was a change of school. So I started out at Huey Elementary School. Then I transitioned to Travis Elementary School. Then to Fort Bliss Elementary School. Then to Logan Elementary School. Then to Fannin Elementary School, because the other schools were all in El Paso. But Fannin Elementary School was in San Antonio, Texas. And I finished my sixth grade year at Hannibal Elementary School in Winter Park.

What was it like? At that age did you love school even though you were switching to so many different schools? Or was it traumatic and you didn’t like it at all?

So I have spoken in my life to many- we’re called Army Brats by the way, the children of soldiers. I don’t know if the other military branches call their kids brats, but it’s an affectionate term when you call someone a brat not something derogatory. So Army Brats, I’ve talked to many of them, and we fall into two categories: either those who loved the experience of change and travel and meeting new friends, or we hated it and it was traumatic. The deciding factor seems to be what was going on internally in the family. So I have a theory that if one was in the family where the central core relationships between the parents and the children were excellent, then the moving around didn’t matter because you can see there was this one constant in your life which was your family. And so, that sort of, you know, let you rely on the strength of the family. On the other hand, if there was something dysfunctional or disturbing in the family relationships than I can imagine there was nothing to anchor a young child’s life to and the experience became overwhelming.

Did you know your grandparents?

So on my mother’s side, well my paternal grandfather died when my mother was quite young. So we never had a chance to meet him. And my mother basically was estranged from her mother most of her life. So we never met my maternal grandmother. On my father’s side I did meet my Grandfather Joseph on two different occasions. My grandmother, my father’s mother, my maternal grandmother, was an interesting woman. She had some Native American heritage, the Creek tribe member, as well as African American heritage. On my mother’s side, part of our family demographics looks like it includes some relatives from France originally. So we’re the typical, usual mixture of people who make up Americans.

What was a typical Sunday like for you growing up?

So it depended on which point in my life we talk about. My biological mother died when I was 11 years old. And so that sector of my life was very different from the period a year after her death my father remarried. And my stepmother was a teacher in Orlando, Florida. And so, that was a very different life, too. So asking questions about what was going on in my life depends on the period I focus on. Let me go back to the earlier period. 

Church

So a typical Sunday while my biological mother was alive is we were episodic attendees at Church. We didn’t go every Sunday, but we went on a fairly regular basis as I recall. My biological mother by the way was named Charlie Anglin. And Charlie was unusual because her parents had expected a boy and they named her before she was born. So she got stuck with the name Charlie. I have pictures of her and a lot of people when they see my mother’s picture they say, “Whoa, your mother was really pretty.” I say, “Well, thank you! Unfortunately, her son didn’t inherit all those good looks.”

Vacation Bible School

After my mother’s death and we moved to Orlando, Florida, then a typical Sunday had a very strict pattern. My stepmother was a strong believer that her stepchildren should have a religious background. So on Sundays it was, Sunday morning the first thing get up, get ready for Sunday School. After Sunday School there was Worship Service in the Church. We sang in the Church choir, I and my three siblings. And so, Wednesdays, we had choir practice and during the summers there is something in the tradition called Vacation Bible School. And so in the summers, I and my siblings attended Vacation Bible School. By this means I came to have a really direct understanding of what religious people and cultures are like from the inside. And that has served me well in my life.

What did you do for fun as a kid?

Oh, my goodness, what did I do for fun? Mostly, I used my imagination which is how I got to be a scientist, really. Before my biological mother died and we were living in St. John’s, Newfoundland on a military post there called Fort Pepperrell, at age four my mother took her children to see a science fiction movie. It was called Space Ways. And at four years old, for whatever strange reason, and this part I can’t figure out, it really caught my attention. And so, I basically, after seeing that movie, decided I wanted to do science because what I understood at that point was that science was a way to have fun and adventures. And what else does a four year old boy want but fun and adventures in life? There are stories my father told me that, of course I have no memory of this, he said that evening when he came home, I tried to explain to him how rockets work. And so, mostly what I did as a child was imagine, just imagine all kinds of things, spaceships and adventures all the things that little boys are interested in. 

Imaginative Fun

When we lived at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas when I was changing schools every year, there was a group of us boys that would always get together and we would play soldiers or westerns or Robinhood, you know, the kinds of things we would see in movies, that’s what we did. You know, swinging through trees, and just a typical little boy life. But it always involved elements of my imagination. After my biological mother died that became a very, very important source of strength in my life. Because I was eleven when she died. And it’s only been in the last 15 years or so that I look back at my life and understand that I was grieving for about four years after my mother’s death. Back in those days, you know,  people didn’t understand that kind of intense emotional shock going on in a young child. I was grieving. So one of the ways that I used to avoid the pain was by using my imagination and reading books about all kinds of things, space travel, what have you.      

X15 Flights and Trigger

Since I was born in 1950, I watched the space race as I grew up. I watched the X15 flights which were always significant events in my life. There’s a magazine called National Geographic that episodically would talk about airplanes, the space race, or rockets and that would fire up my imagination. I watched television shows like Rocky Jones Space Ranger. You know, I was always good at drawing so I started drawing characters that I would see in the movies. Also, westerns. My western favorite cowboys were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. His wife and they had a sidekick. And Roy Roger’s horse was Trigger. I liked horses so Trigger was a favorite animal of mine. We never owned horses, but things like that. 

Comic Books

And then in Orlando, I started reading comic books. Marvel comic books were amazing in the sixties. These days they’re movies, but in the sixties they were comic books. And recently, I’ve begun to reexamine some of these comic books. And they were as good as I thought at the time mostly. They’re amazing literature. The principal writer at Marvel was a guy named Stan Lee who is deceased. I think he died in the last two to three years. But he just wrote amazing stories.  So, for example, the first African American superhero, a character named Black Panther, that was Stan Lee’s doing. And he had this great artist named Jack Kirby. And so, they just wrote these amazing, engrossing stories. 

Science Fiction

I read real science fiction, Isaac Asimov, who is a favorite of mine, Arthur C. Clarke, but there were just so many, a galaxy of others. So I immersed myself in my imagination to avoid the pain of not having my biological mother with me. And like I said, it was very important because by sustaining my imagination as a teenager, it was still there when I needed it to do theoretical physics. 

When did you decide you wanted to pursue physics?

As I said I was four years old when I first heard the word science and all through my time from then to being, I guess a 16 year old kid, science was always sort of the forefront for me. There was this show called Science Fiction Theatre that was a favorite of mine. The Outer Limits was another favorite. Twilight Zone and these are television shows that often had themes in science and science fiction. And so, I knew I was headed for science. I wanted to be headed for science. The other part was that I loved mathematics. I guess in some sense I’m the third generation of mathematics in my family because my grandfather could neither read nor write, but he could do simple arithmetic. My father never had the opportunity to finish high school but when I was a child, I watched him study for his GED Examination and I watched him study trigonometry and some calculus which he seemed to enjoy. And so, I picked up a love of mathematics, I think, genetically it seems from those stories. So I always knew that I wanted to do science combined with math. And then in the 11th grade while I was attending Jones High School in Orlando, I had this fantastic teacher named Mr. Freeman Coney. And within the first two weeks of his class I decided it wasn’t all of science that I wanted to do, it was physics.

Did you tell people or did you keep it a secret?

I didn’t tell anyone I finally collapsed on Physics, but Mr. Coney has a funny story about how he realized I might become a physicist. I have no recollection of the story. But unfortunately he’s deceased now. But before he died on a number of occasions when I returned to Orlando, he would tell the story in my presence. And the story went as follows: One day he was teaching the class and he noticed there was a student who had a comic book hidden inside of his textbook and he was actually reading the comic book not the textbook. So Mr. Coney decided to ask the student the question to get him involved in the class. So he asked the student the question and the student answered without looking up. So then he asked a slightly harder question and the same thing happened. Then he asked a really, really difficult question and the same thing occurred a third time. At that point, Mr. Coney said he realized this student might become a physicist. And, of course, I was the student in the story. But like I said, I have no recollection of this. But he knew I wanted to become a physicist, let me put it that way.

May I ask, with that story I don’t know if you got everything quickly or you studied really hard and at that that moment you were reading a comic book, but you knew the answers. From the beginning was it like something innate that you just knew?

Okay, so not to seem arrogant, but the entire time up to 12th grade – I’m sorry, let  me be more accurate. With the exception of a difficulty to read in first and second grade, with that as an exception, the rest of my period in school up to 12th grade, was never challenging for me. I was always one of the top two students in every class that I took. And while I was at Fort Bliss that meant that I was typically the only African American student in the class. But yet, I was the best student in the class. And so, even up through taking Mr. Coney’s physics class, it was never difficult for me. I mentioned earlier that in some sense I’m a third generation mathematician in my family. And it has something to do with, we seem to have an affinity for mathematics in my family. I have children and one of them is, she’s going to be a theoretical physicist. So she will be the fourth generation where we can see this affinity for mathematics. My son is likely to be a biophysicist. So this trait, perhaps it has a genetic component. It certainly has a social component because I earlier mentioned watching my father study calculus, and trigonometry. And as my children were growing up, they obviously saw me doing lots of calculations with my students, with my collaborators, with my friends. And so, you know, we’ve always had this social component of doing mathematical things. And so, it just always seemed very natural to me. I didn’t get challenged in school until I was a freshman in college.

Listen:  Part II of V  (18:25)

 

 

You mentioned being challenged… you were one of the first people to enter the Interphase program at MIT, right?

That’s correct. In 1969, let me back up a bit. When I was 14 years old, I first heard about this school called MIT by watching a television show. And at the time I interpreted the information as this is a college where the only thing they make you do is study what I consider the good stuff, the mathematics and the science. And so, that evening I finally had an answer to a question my father had been asking each of his children since we began school which is, “What college do you want to go to?” Well, I finally had an answer, “I want to go to MIT.” So MIT was a challenge.

Racial Segregation and Inequities in the South

Partly it was because I went to Jones High School which was a segregated high school in a southern city still very much in the throes of racial segregation. And that meant that the resources that were available to me in high school were not the same as you would have seen at high schools predominately attended by European American students. So it was a challenge. And in 1969 MIT decided to, essentially it was an experiment, but it was an experiment driven by what was happening. I mean, this was around the time of the assassination of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights protests. And when the country was looking at itself and saying, you know, are the assumptions we have about race, are they really valid? And so, 1969 turns out to be the first year that not only MIT but all the major universities in the country decided that perhaps it was okay to have people who look like me among their freshmen class.

Project Interphase

Now at MIT there were 50 African American students attended the fall of 1969, and we were not the first African American students at MIT because the first African American students at MIT attended in the 1890’s. So it wasn’t that MIT had never had African American students, it had just a paltry number, 50 was out of a class of 1,000. So MIT, under the influence of African American students who were already there, was made to understand that these students do not have the kind of preparatory background that you’re used to seeing. And therefore a transitional program might be useful for these students. That transitional program is Project Interphase that you mentioned in asking me this question. The person most responsible for its creation, well, two people, the Provost at the time, a gentleman by the name of Paul Gray; and a remarkable African American graduate student by the name of Shirley Jackson, who this year will be retiring, I think, after 25 or 30 years as the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. But Shirley and a group of African American students there said, we would like to have the university support to put together a transitional program. We will actually plan the curriculum, we will acquire the instructional staff and we will direct the program. And the university let them. And so, Project Interphase was created, and I was in the first class of Project Interphase.         

What was it like for you? Did you think this was kind of exciting that you were in a special program like a gifted class?

Well, for me, the excitement was, there were a couple things. First of all, the entire time that I was in high school I had always heard about this city named Boston. And in those days there was an expression that people often used to describe Boston. It was called the Athens of America as in the Greek City of Athens and the role it played in establishment of western culture and civilization. And so, I was excited about going to this Athens of America, which I found out it wasn’t after I got there. But the other thing is, I was excited because my dream from four years earlier was coming true. I was having a chance to go to MIT. It was frightening after I understood the magnitude of the gaps in my preparation because of the lack of resources at Jones High that I had spoken about earlier. And how that played itself out in things I simply didn’t know. And so, Project Interphase gave me an accurate assessment of what I needed to do to be successful. How hard I would have to work. And it was better that I find that out in the summer before I started classes than my first academic year. And so, Project Interphase I tell people was the most difficult academic experience I had ever undergone to that point in my life.  It was the first time in my life I had to stay up all night to do homework. It was the first time in my life when I didn’t get A’s on tests by simply getting up and walking into the room. It was the first time in my life when I had to develop study habits. It was just a complete transition. And by the end of the summer, we had a break between the end of the program and the start of the semester.

560 West Carter Street

So I returned to our house at 560 West Carter Street in the Parramore District of Orlando. And for the first two or three days I simply slept. At the end of that period my father came into the room and said, “Son, are you okay?” And I said, “Yes, Dad.” He said, “But, you’re just sleeping. Are you physically okay?” I said, “Dad, I’m just tired.” And then he said something remarkable, at least remarkable in my experiences. When I was a child, whenever I had a setback, Dad’s attitude was get up and get back in there and get at it. You know, it was like, don’t feel sorry for your self. Just try again. Don’t give up. On this occasion of encountering his terribly fatigued son after his first exposure to MIT, Dad said, “Son, look at me. I don’t want you to go back to that place if it’s going to make you sick.” And I was utterly stunned because it was the first time I didn’t hear, “Get up and get back in there.” And what was remarkable on that occasion was I took that to mean that I had his permission to fail. I had never had his permission to fail at anything whether it was Little League Baseball or anything. And so because I had his permission to fail, I never felt I had pressure from him to succeed. And, of course, that was a lifting of an enormous emotional burden. So whatever worries I had in me at MIT were self generated at that point. It wasn’t about worrying about disappointing my dad or anything because I knew he was always in my corner independent of what happened.

And how would you all stay in touch when you were at MIT? Did you talk on the phone or did he come to visit you?

So my father only came up to MIT one time and that was eight years after I left Jones High, for my graduation when I received my Ph.D. degree. You know when I left home, I left home. The summer after my first year at MIT, I did return that summer and I had a job at a local electronics firm in the Orlando area named Dynatronix.

 

 

 

Jim Gates at age 19 predicting a computer age when people use “numbers instead of names and credit cards instead of money”. Gates worked at Dynatronix electronics company in Orlando in the summer of 1969 and 1970. In this Orlando Sentinel article from November 23, 1969, the MIT student says he “hopes to be one of the first scientists to pioneer ‘problem-solving computers'”. Dr. Gates would go on to discover the mathematical evidence of an error correcting code in the Universe. (Article courtesy of the Dr. S. James Gates, Jr. Archival Collection.)

Summer Job at MIT 

But after that summer I never lived with my parents again. I would come and visit on holidays and during the summers I had a summer job at MIT on the instructional staff of the same program that I had been a student in. I did that the entire time from sophomore to senior year as an undergraduate for all four years as a graduate student. And, in total, for a total of 14 years in a row. Even when I was on faculty working at Harvard or Cal Tech, I would return to work in the summer program. So I was a son that I was just out in the world taking care of myself much as my father when he was a 17 year old kid. He lied to get into the U.S. Army. He went off to WWII and he was basically on his own as a 17 year old.

Photo of the brick honoring World War II Staff Sergeant S. J. Gates, Sr. at Lake Eola Park’s Battle of the Bulge Memorial with a young person in the background paying his respects. Gates began his 28 year military career in the U.S. Army serving 13 months in the European Theater of Operations during WWII.       (Photo: JTRACY)    

That was pretty much what I did a little bit later in life. We were never estranged from one another… My dad and I we talked regularly. It would be by phone, but it wasn’t every week. I doubt it was every month quite frankly. I was busy living my life and he was busy taking care of my siblings and my stepmother.

“I realized that my father was my friend.”

And, I guess the thing I can say is that my father and I became much, much closer in my 30’s and 40’s than we were throughout my entire time in my 20’s and early 30’s. In fact, so close that it shocked me. I realized that my father was a friend. When I was a child or a young adult, I could never imagine that my father would be one of my closest friends. But after I got more mature, my father for the last 30 years of his life, he was one of my best friends and at that point we spoke weekly.

I don’t know if this is too personal, but did he ever annunciate to you how proud he was of you?

Oh, my goodness! It’s funny you should open that can of worms. So let me start with sort of a maximum compliment that I ever received from him. At some point, I was probably in my late fifties or early sixties by then and I was back visiting. He made the statement, he said, he always called me Junior, he said, “Junior, you have exceeded every wish and dream that I and your mother ever had for you.” He was so proud. In fact, on many occasions before that he had demonstrated his pride. Some of them were a little bit mischievous, I’ll share one of them with you. 

Published in 1983. The first comprehensive textbook on supersymmetry.

Superspace: One Thousand and One Lessons in Supersymmetry

So when I was at Cal Tech and that was the period of 1980’s and 1982, I wrote a book along with three other physicists. Now this book it was only addressed to the audience of the people who had Ph.D.’s in Physics and Mathematics. It was not a book for the public. The title of the book was Superspace: One Thousand and One Lessons in Supersymmetry. And so, when the book was published I sent him two copies. Of course, I signed them because like I said I was never estranged from him, but we weren’t physically in each other’s presence so I sent him two copies. And a couple of months or so later he told me a story about them. He said, “Son, you know I’ve taken your book to work with me on a couple of occasions.” I said, “Okay, Dad, why would you want to do that?” He said, “Well, you know, I just want to show people that I have a son who wrote a book.” I said, “Okay.” Then he had this mischievous look in his eye and he said, “I used it in a certain way.” I said, “Dad, what do you mean by that?” Because my dad was a prankster at some levels. He said, “Well,” –  Now my father’s job with Orange County was as a mail courier because you have to have people take the mail from the Central Office to the schools, between schools, transport, and all that stuff, that’s what Dad did for Orange County. And so, he said, “Well, you know, I sometimes meet officials with doctoral degrees that work for the county and some of them have gotten to know me, and I’ll bring the book out and say, “My son has finished at MIT and he wrote this book.” And I tell them it’s about lasers. And they open the book up, and, of course, it’s full of mathematics and they have no idea what it is. And they say, ‘Oh, yes, I can see it’s all about lasers’. ” And, of course, the book had nothing to do with lasers. And it was just his sense of humor at work. So, yeah, I always knew that my dad loved me.     

Christmas Bike Lessons at Fort Bliss with Dad

But it even started long before then quite frankly. When we lived in El Paso on Fort Bliss one Christmas he bought me a bicycle. And, of course, as a young child I didn’t know how to ride it. And so, he on Sundays would go with me to an old abandoned air field and help me to learn to ride. Now I was cognizant of the fact that all during the week he worked really hard and yet he would take this time out to go with me to this hot dry desert abandoned airfield to help me learn how to ride a bicycle running along next to me. And so, I never had any doubts about my father’s love not just for me, but for all his children. I told you my biological mother died when I was 11. He raised the four of us by himself while being an active duty soldier for a year and we never went without food. In fact, we never went without having ironed, clean clothes to go to school. That was my father. So I never ever had any doubts about the depths of his affection for his children. In particular, for me, as his oldest child and namesake. And in some sense, I recognized that he was living out part of his dreams through me. Because he always wanted to go to college, and he was always interested in mathematics, and here he had a son that was doing it.

So in addition to this great love it also sounds like he was really smart.

Yes! I realized that late in life too. My sister says it best. I have a sister, so of my father’s four children, three of us are still living. Unfortunately, my youngest brother died in 2006 at the age of 52. But the other three of us are still living. So my father lived in Eatonville for most of his last 30 years of his life, from 1971 to his death in 2007. And so, at some point, well my sister because she lived in Orlando was always with my father, especially on weekends. And so, at one point she said that he was talking about how smart his children are, because all of us are pretty, pretty good. So he was talking about it to my sister, and so my sister said to him, “Dad, where do you think that came from?” And she said, he looked at her for a second and then smiled broadly. So yeah, he was clearly an unusually clever, smart guy. 

 

 

Published in Italian in 2006, “Ispirato dall’esempio del padre…”, inspired by the example of his father, Sylvester Gates, Sr.

 

Mathematical Ability of My Father

I’ll tell you another story that he should have actually applied but somehow never did. When he was a young soldier in the Army, in fact it probably was while he was still training to go into WWII, there was an exercise in the country. As you know when you train, one thing that the Army does is you go into the country, you have maps and you have to navigate by reading the map to get to certain points. So he was in the jeep with the commanding lieutenant of this company as they were navigating some road out in the country some where, and the lieutenant said something like, “I’m not sure when we were supposed to meet the other call.” Because they were supposed to meet up with another group. So my father took out a map and took out a watch and said, “Sir, we should likely encounter them in the next 15 or so minutes.” And yes, in 15 or so minutes they did encounter the other group. So yes, it’s clear that my father had some mathematical ability and the ability to read maps and process data.

Listen:  Part III of V  (30:49)

 

 

You mentioned that you got a job teaching at MIT, you were teaching the summer school, right? Was it hard to get that job or was that part of the Interphase Program? Did you have to apply for it or were you recruited?

Well, what happened was in the summer of 1969 I was a student. The summer of ’70 I worked at Dynatronix. The summer of ’71 I had to apply because the program was looking for instructors, but since I was only a sophomore clearly that was judged to be beyond my level of expertise, so I applied to be a tutor. And that’s when I discovered I love teaching! It was the first time I experienced the light that goes on when someone else understands something for the first time. And the other thing that was really interesting is, I realized in a sense as a teacher you can actually look inside your students’ minds and see how they work. And so, these two things fascinated me. So the summer I was a tutor I was working with a mathematics professor at MIT and he saw that I was pretty good tutoring and he saw that I liked mathematics problems so he gave me some problems to solve. And he said, “You know, if you have some time see what you can do with these problems. And so, they were fascinating problems more difficult than the problems I had encountered in class. But I solved them. So I came back to him and said, “Oh well, this is what I found.” Well, it turns out that some of the problems are what are called Putnam exam problems. Putnam exam is an exam that is administered at universities to identify people with very, very good mathematical abilities. And the fact that I had solved these problems for this professor indicated to him that I had a pretty high level of mathematical sophistication. And so, the next summer he was my advocate that I could actually teach. And so, that’s how I got to be a teacher at MIT in the Summer of ’72.     

You know I was going to ask you because I read online… and I wondered is that true you have been teaching either physics or math from that time to today?

That is correct. I am in my 51st consecutive year as a classroom instructor. I never imagined anything like this when I began I can tell you that.

 

Jim Gates Gives Back by Stephanie Melchor, Symmetry Magazine, 2/08/22, National Medal of Science Recipient Sylvester James “Jim” Gates, Jr. has published multiple papers on theoretical physics with undergraduate and high school students.

Illustration of Jim Gates, the       

Illustration by Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Corinne Mucha. 

 

And you still really enjoy it? Is that what motivates you?

Oh, absolutely! In fact, I enjoy it so much that I give myself teaching duties. There’s a summer program that I began in 1999. It’s called the Summer Student Theoretical Physics Research Session SSTPRS, an unpronounceable acronym. And I’ve been doing this even in years when I have sabbaticals I teach in my own Summer Program. So yeah, I still enjoy teaching. And one of the reasons I enjoy it is because it forces me to rethink things that I think I know. Because young people are amazing in the sense that often times you will get a student who will ask you a question you have never thought about before. And therefore you have to actually think about it in a new way. And that turns out as I said in a recent article, that turns out to be a way that you solve problems. Often you have to have a new viewpoint to solve a difficult problem. 

The 4.2 Billion Forty Year Question Solved

In my career most recently, this was emphasized in the year 2020, there’s a problem that involves 4.2 billion unknown questions that was over 40 years old, and I leading my two students solved this problem. But we solved it by thinking about it in a way no one had ever thought about it before. Most people were thinking about equations. We basically started thinking about crystals.  And it was the switch to the thinking about crystals that allowed us to figure out how to solve the problem. So this thinking again is extraordinarily important.     

It is just so really wonderful! You are a such a role model for so many people in teaching and your accomplishments. Sometimes you may think of a person who is a brilliant scientist, but really doesn’t want to be around people at all. Or someone who is a talented teacher, but maybe they only do the research work when they have to fulfill a requirement. When you look at your CV online, I guess what kind of struck me is you see these university level presentations and appointments, but you also have listed your presentations for elementary schools. And the work that you have done at other levels that seems to have continued with all of that.

Research, Teaching, and Service

Yes, well, I guess, I’m rather odd perhaps in that way, Jane. When one becomes a Professor at a major research university, you are told the following: The standards by which you will be judged for the rest of your professional career include three pillars: Research, Teaching, and Service. And so, when I was told that in 1983, 84 whenever it was when I got my first faculty appointment, I decided that I was going to try to get an A+ on all three. Because, you know, I’m a teacher, so I think like a teacher. You’ve given me the exams I have to take: One is called Research, One is called Teaching, One is called Service. I’m going to strive for an A+ in all three. 

Solving Mathematical Puzzles No One Else Can Solve for Fun

So for me they are coequally important. For me the research is actually kind of selfish quite frankly, because it’s part of how I have fun in my life, is solving mathematical puzzles no one else in the world can solve. Because to me that’s my idea of fun. Remember I told you as a four year old child my main goal was fun and adventure. Well, this is how I have fun still. On the other hand, because I regard it as kind of selfish pleasure, I figure I got to do something to earn my keep. And the earning my keep part, is the teaching and all I do outside in the other aspects of  my career, teaching, serving on State School Boards, advising Presidents of the United States, all of that is the stuff that I’m doing in some sense to pay back to society the extraordinary privileges it has allowed me to still be that four year old kid now in a 71 year old body playing games.

Well, you certainly have made the A+ in all categories there’s no question about that. I wanted to ask you, I know that you have spent your life or a great amount of work on string theory and supersymmetry. You’re known for a lot of different things, but in the science encyclopedias those are some of the top categories for you that are mentioned. So for this interview, I feel that we should talk about it a little bit if you don’t mind?

Let me thank you first of all, Jane, for asking these questions. Because I often feel that many people neglect the fact that I am an actual research scientist who is still active discovering things that no one else in the world has found prior to my finding them. So thank you first of all.

Supersymmetry

Yes, so when I was in graduate school I was the only person at MIT who figured out that this one topic which is named Supersymmetry was likely to be extraordinarily important for the next couple of decades in theoretical physics. So as a consequence in 1977, I completed that institution’s first Ph.D. thesis on this mathematical theoretical physics topic Supersymmetry. Now it’s likely that this was one of the first such doctoral theses on this subject in the country. But since there’s no central repository, one doesn’t have a way to verify that. But we know that it was the first at MIT, and we know that it was one of the first in the United States.

SYMMETRY PRINCIPLES IN SELECTED PROBLEMS OF FIELD THEORY by SYLVESTER JAMES GATES, JR. SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF PHILOSOPHY at the MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLGY (June 1977). (VIEW Thesis Full version).

So that says something about a couple of things. First of all, about what I like to think of as my academic entrepreneurship. Because it’s not often that a graduate student will pick a subject that no one else at their university knows anything about, and have the luck or the foresight or the intuition to pick something that’s going to be the foundation of the field for the next 40 years. That’s what I did in my career in the period of 1976 to ’77. So it turns out that choice meant when string theory came along, I was already actually working in the foundations of it which was a convenient thing for my career. And it also says something about maybe my luck, but, I think, it also says something about the way I think about doing research. 

Aesthetic Beliefs

I have some, I guess, I call them aesthetic beliefs that’s the only way I know to describe them. You know, when people think about aesthetics, they think about painting or art or portrait. But there’s also a kind of aesthetics in doing theoretical physics. And so, I have a set of Aesthetics that is my primary filter for picking what I’m going to work on. And it has served me extraordinarily well now for five decades. So this choice that I made as a graduate student was based on making a survey of all the topics that were going on in theoretical physics at the time, looking at how it crossmatched with mathematics and my own wealth of mathematics and parts of mathematics that I am really good at, and then picking something that was consistent with all those things. As well as making an educated guess about how important this will be for the future. So this sense of aesthetics has guided my career. And as a consequence, in each decade of my career I have been the first person to find something that is often later understood to be important. 

Twisted Chiral Multiplet

So for example, when I was Assistant Professor at MIT, I wrote a paper on something called twisted chiral multiplet. It’s a technical term. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone who is not a physicist. But it turns out that this led to a whole new branch of mathematics called Generalized Complex Geometry. The thing that I did in that thing was the first example of this kind of mathematics. In the early 2000’s I created a new set of graphs or pictures and we call them Adinkras. And these ultimately were the source of how I could solve this, 20 years later, I could solve a problem with 4.2 billion unknown. So I create mathematics consistent with what comes from my subconscious.

Finding Magical Math

And long ago I realized that I could do this. And the thing that I guess is kind of weird, it’s not that I can do this all the time, but I can do it enough. And the other thing is that I learned that my subconscious literally does mathematics. It doesn’t do it all the time, but all the big things that I’ve done in my career – and it’s not my metaphor – a lot of people talk about, when they talk about doing mathematics in their dreams and what have you, they’re talking about metaphors. It’s not a metaphor, it’s actually formally. Most dramatically in the 90’s, I was working with a couple of graduate students and they literally saw me one day give them a problem, a month or two passed. I didn’t work on the problem at all. They were busy struggling trying to solve it. And one day, I came into the office and I told them what the answer was up to determining the values of maybe two or three constants and it had come to me in a dream. I mean, literally the formal equations had come to me in a dream. So I have experienced enough in my life to know that at the subconscious level I am intimately, emotionally tied to the research that I do. And that’s basically how I’ve been able to find a lot of magical math.

Thank you very much for that answer. I would like to ask a couple more questions if I may relating to your research.

Totally at your disposal.

First I want to to lead up to something, ask you a question, but for those who might be listening to this, I think most people nowadays have heard the term string theory. So you wrote your first thesis at MIT on “Symmetry Principles in Selected Problems of String Theory”, 1973, and at that time no one at MIT knew about it and most people in the country didn’t know about it and maybe even the world. And I read that you actually taught it to yourself that you read a lot and you taught it to yourself… You wrote the book that you sent your dad [Superspace: One Thousand and One Lessons in Supersymmetry] which was the first comprehensive textbook on supersymmetry.

Illustrated edition published in 2009.

And just recently… a new article that you cowrote, “Superspace BRST/BV Operators of Superfield Gauge Theories”, that article was published on January 28, 2022. So here we’re talking about MIT, you’re writing about something that nobody knows about, and now in 2022 there’s actually a journal called Symmetry. So it seems to me like there’s been a great deal of progress made in a very short amount of time. So I wanted to talk a little bit about that and what the next step is. So first maybe if you could give your definition of what Supersymmetry is, and you don’t have to do it in 30 seconds. I know that you can do it in 30 seconds. But just so we have a working definition that comes from you.

Sure. So if you look at our universe, roughly speaking, you can break it into two parts. There are things like electrons, protons, and neutrons. They are particles of us. They are things that are parts of our bodies, and parts of trees, and chemicals, right; so those objects in the mathematical physics that I do, we call those things fermions. That’s their name, collectively, so all of them. So it might be an electron, it might be a proton, but we call them fermions. And we put them in that category because of one rather interesting thing. You know, I can clap my hands, but my hands can’t pass through each other. Fermions are things that can’t pass through each other. They have an intrinsic repulsion. If I take two flashlight beams and shine one at  the other, the beams will pass right through each other. Now light beams are made of photons, particles of light. The Higgs Boson has that property that if you took two of them they could pass right through each other. So anything that has that property we call bosons. So if you look at the bosons they’re all responsible for the forces: there’s gravitational force. The particle called the graviton, it’s famous in science fiction. You look at electromagnetic force, well, particles of light are the carriers of electromagnetic force. And so, the universe looks like its made of two sphinx: particles that carry the forces, and particles that the forces act.

The Principle of Supersymmetry

And if you look at the history of our development of the equations that describe these things, the equations are very different. Just totally different. Supersymmetry is the idea that there are other kinds of particles that carry forces. And other kinds of particles that are subject to forces in such a way that you have an overall balance, that’s the principle of supersymmetry.

Okay. Perfect. Thank you very much. Now I want to ask another question relating to that and the point of these questions is I understand that this is a large body of your work and this is a very brief interview, but I think it’s important that when people listen to this, that they still hear the recognition of this contribution that you’ve made even though it’s in the books. But also, we seem to be getting closer. I watched the presentation that you gave for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and in that presentation you talked about that there’s a possibility that this may come in the future, that we’re able to see this. Let me clarify, so here in Orlando we’ve been part of a lot of technology history, you know, we know what we’re looking for. There’s a shuttle launch that’s going to go off and everyone goes outside and we’re looking for the shuttle or the space launch. And there’s been great progress and it’s been a part of the collective history… I heard you say in the presentation that we may see evidence of supersymmetry in the next decade and that you think it’s going to be found in nature. So, I guess, what I’m asking is for everyday people who don’t subscribe to Symmetry magazine, for the work that you’re doing what is it that we should be looking for and paying attention to? 

First of all, thank you for the question, Jane. But I’m not sure for the average person there’s much urgency in paying attention. For supersymmetry, which is what I’ve dedicated my life’s work to, Mother Nature doesn’t care if I’m alive when it’s discovered or not. And that’s something I’ve always known. So people will ask me, “Well, why are you working on something you may not know the answer to?” And the answer probably is best expressed by a Nobel Laureate Physicist Paul Dirac. And he said, I’m paraphrasing, but he basically said, there’s great satisfaction in being part of this process we call progress. So even if one is a little part of it. He thought it was a source of great satisfaction. And that’s how I have always felt. Maybe the things that I’ve done as an application in nature maybe we won’t discover them. But someone has got to diligently track this down for our species and in my lifetime it seems as though I was elected to be it. It’s like a game of tag, you’re it! Nature, it seems in the Universe tagged me to do this, that’s why I take great pleasure in being permitted to find things no one else finds.

Evidence of Supersymmetry

So, yes, maybe in a decade we will begin to see evidence of supersymmetry. But it’s not going to be, I’ve always thought it’s not going to be, in the way that most people have thought about. So there is a scientific device in Geneva, Switzerland called the Large Hadron Collider. It’s the device that let us discover the so called Higgs’ Boson and many people thought it would allow us to see superpartners. The partners that causes balance to come into observation. I never thought that quite frankly. And, in fact, in 2006 I wrote an article where I explicitly said that it might take a hundred years to see supersymmetry that way. And I still think it might take a 100 years to use that kind of technology for supersymmetry. In that same article however, I did talk about how we might begin to get hints of seeing supersymmetry. And interestingly enough, last year one of those hints seems like it’s coming into our grasp. 

The Muon g-2 Experiment

So turns out that things like the electron behave like little bar magnets. And, you know, everybody knows bar magnets, north pole, south pole, all that stuff. Well, electron properties are exactly like that stuff. And the strength of that magnetic property is determined not just by properties of the electron, but by properties of other particles. Even particles that you cannot see, that we cannot detect have an influence on these magnetic properties. And so, what I was talking about is that the first hints of supersymmetry were likely to be in these kinds of examples. They’re called precision observations. And last year there was an announcement of something called the Muon g-2 experiment. That’s M-U-O-N and then just g-2. The scientists looking at the magnetic properties of these particles seem to find indications, the first serious indications, that this magnetic property is connected not just to the particles that we know about, but could be connected to these superpartners. And so, that’s the kind of way I was thinking that you might see evidence of supersymmetry, and I said so in 2006. 

Okay. Thank you very much. Am I allowed one more supersymmetry question?

You’re allowed as many as you want. Since this is what I’ve done my most serious research, I’m happy to answer as many questions as you ask. 

Okay, so maybe it’s 5 years, 10 years, 100 years, 500 years, but let’s just say hypothetically that it’s 5 years and that you’re alive and it’s proven. Supersymmetry is proven and you celebrate. After that, what is the next step? In other words, supersymmetry is proven and we’ve done this. Is there a next step or is that a secret?

The Laws of Quantum Theory

Yes, there is a next step and we have been working on this simultaneously. The next step is something called quantum gravity. Because you see, you and I are speaking to each other using computers, and computer technology that depends on integrated circuits, these little computer microchips. These computer microchips work because of the laws of quantum theory. Quantum theory is this really bizarre field of the universe. But it also turns out to be the most accurately tested part of physics humanity has ever studied. And so, we know to better than one part in a billion because that’s what the accuracy you need to design these computer chips. We know that to better than one part of a billion the laws of quantum mechanics accurately describe the universe within them. 

A Quantum Theory of Gravity

If you try to apply these same laws to gravity, by gravity, I mean the kind of theory of gravity that Einstein invented in 1915, the theory so called general relativity. It turns out that those two pieces of mathematics are inconsistent with each other. So we cannot describe gravity in a way as consistent with the laws that allow our microcomputer chips to work. So it’s clear that something is going on there and the resolution of whatever this something is will be a quantum theory of gravity. So part of why string theory has been so exciting for so many people is because we have hints that string theory will allow us to combine Einstein’s gravity with quantum theory. 

String Theory

And so, if we see supersymmetry, it will say, be even more that string theory is probably the way to go and that we should redouble our efforts to complete that. And so, that’s the next big target. In fact, it’s funny you should ask this to me as a question because several years ago I wrote an article where I said I have a Theorist’s Bucket List. And I don’t know if you know the expression bucket list, but it was made popular in a movie some years ago. It’s things you want to check off before you kick the bucket, so it’s a bucket list. And the Higgs’ Boson was on that bucket list. Well, that happened. Supersymmetry is on that bucket list. It hasn’t happened. But, you know, if we’re lucky may be. Quantum gravity’s also on my bucket list. So there’s a hierarchy of things that we don’t know that if I live 400 or 500 years I would sure hope to see each one of those items get checked off.

Published in 2017.

Listen:  Part IV of V  (21:59)

 

 

Well, thank you very much for your answer. If we still have some time I wanted to talk about some of the high profile achievements that you have been the leader of. What was it like serving on the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, (PCAST)? 

National and International Public Policy Expertise 

First of all it was an enormous shock to get a call from The White House, I guess it was in 2009 when I was invited to serve on this Council. I was aware of the Council’s existence for years because I, well, when I was at MIT, let’s start there, in my final year there I was contracted by the Boston School Committee to design a high school curriculum on physics and I did so. I executed the contract. And so, that was the start of a portion of my career interacting with governments and policy and things like that. And so, all through my career from then on, I was slowly doing things: Advising the National Science Foundation, The Department of Energy, some books with Time Life Corporation, some work with The Defense Department. So I was slowly building up an expertise in policy. But when that call in 2009 came – oh, and before that 2009 call- in 2008 I was actually invited and accepted the invitation to advise The South African Government on Physics and Policies. So in 2009, I knew what PCAST was, but I never in a billion years dreamed I would be invited to serve on it. It was not on my list of things to do. So I entered with a lot of trepidation. I’m willing to take chances. You know, that graduate student that was the only student at MIT to study this thing that no one else knew. I’m always willing to take chances that will hopefully I will succeed and cause me to grow.

Serving as Advisor to The President of the United States of America

So when I received that invitation, I was actually in Florida. I had just gotten off the airplane at an airport in Gainesville because I was going to the University of Florida to give a talk and I received a call from Harold Varmus, a Nobel Laureate and biologist who figured out how ordinary genes turn into cancer genes. And he’s the person who extended the invitation. And, I think, this is the only time in my life when I’ve been told something that literally caused my knees to go weak. I had to hold on to the wall not to fall down after hearing the invitation. And so, I accepted it. It was one of the most exciting things in my life to do. To be an advisor to The President of the United States of America. We’ve already talked about the fact that I’m an Army brat, so you know my family believes in service to this country. My father served in the U.S. Army for, I think, 27 years. And so, for me to have this opportunity to serve my country in this manner of course I would. In fact, I think, I said, “How could you say no if someone offered you that opportunity?”  Because our country has many problems, racism for African Americans, of course, is one of the major problems that afflict us. But even with all these problems, as I said personally, I have felt an obligation to return to our society some of the privilege that I have experienced in it. Serving as an advisor to the President of the United States, I thought, was one of the ways to do that. 

Writing the Every Student Succeeds Act

It was exciting. It was hard. One of the hardest things I’ve done in my life since first going to MIT. I tell people, students especially, I say, when I was an undergraduate in my first couple of terms, I wept many a night at MIT feeling the self doubt and the pain, the emotional agony wondering what is going to happen next. Working for the President was the first time in my life since then I had got close to that point again. I didn’t actually literally weep, but it was amazingly stressful. To my surprise, it turns out I’m pretty good at that kind of stuff. As several of my colleagues mentored me and informed me as we were working to advise President Obama. So I got a chance to write things that later became part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the ESSA Act. There are things there that basically started from the things that I had written from my time in PCAST. We tried to implement a series of steps to improve education, so called STEM education for students in the United States. And I was one of the lead authors on every single one of those reports that we gave President Obama.

Seven Years of Portfolio Reports Written to the President of the United States

We also did work far afield, so I had a chance not as lead but as one of the writing group that crafted a report on how to extend Wi-Fi capabilities so that everyone could have a smartphone. We worked on a report in 2012 on that. So, we were working on big national problems that were not theoretical physics by any stretch of the imagination. They were not in my sweet spot of mathematical love, but for reasons which I’m not quite sure, I seem to have a kind of, I’ve lived the kind of life so that I have a knack for seeing things that can be useful in addressing even these kinds of complicated questions. So I had, at the end of a seven year period I had and have quite a portfolio of reports to the President of the United States, to parts of the United States government, recommendations that have gone out to state governments and have been implemented, that all flow from my willingness to take on these challenges. And so much so, that it has become part of my teaching portfolio. 

Teaching Public Policy at the University of Maryland

I don’t think I mentioned this, but I, for the last four years in the evening, have been teaching a course in Public Policy at the University of Maryland. In fact, the next time I have to teach that class is tomorrow night. So my practical experience in policy making has translated itself into an educational opportunity to teach young people some of the things I learned later in my life about the usefulness that a scientist can have outside of their core area of competence.

Policy Speech at the American Association for the Advancement of Science

This past Saturday I gave a policy speech at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. So Public Policy, if you look at my title, this is actually part of what I do. Yes, I actively do that still. 

And you have been very successful I noticed it seemed to me in the hearing that you participated in the America Wins When America Competes: Building a High Tech Work Force.

Yes, I testified before Congress related to that.

And it seemed that Congress members were very respectful of your presentation and your testimony and very appreciative.

Your research capabilities are astounding. The fact that you know these things about me. But I was prepared very well by members of senior, more experienced colleagues. One of the things I tell students is that you never get to the point in your life where there isn’t someone who can teach you more than you know. I’ve always been open to that. Because of that attitude I’ve been willing to perform at a high level. 

[Excerpt from the PREPARED STATEMENT OF DR. S. JAMES GATES, JR.,  to the UNITED STATES CONGRESS AMERICA WINS WHEN AMERICA COMPETES: BUILDING A HIGH-TECH WORKFORCE, THURSDAY, MAY 6, 2010, S. HRG. 111–1003,  HEARING BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE,
SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION UNITED STATES SENATE ONE HUNDRED ELEVENTH CONGRESS SECOND SESSION.]

The story begins with my grandfather, Joseph Gates- a poor but land-owning farmer-in the area of Linden, AL. Though Joseph Gates could neither read nor write, apparently he had a “knack for ciphering’ (i.e., arithmetic) and he was fond of saying, “People don’t mind being around people who know how to work.” Together with his wife Annie Lee Hudson Gates, they became the parents of Sylvester James Gates, SR. Near the Battle of the Bulge Memorial at Lake Eola in Orlando, a brick bears the following inscription, “S.J. Gates, Sr Staff Sergeant, Quarter Master Truck, Red Ball Express,” a symbol of a young man who decided he would leave the farm to seek a better life. Metaphorically, the brick described above has an even greater significance to me. It represents a foundation laid for my life. In 1941, S.J. Gates, Sr. began his 27 years in the U.S. Army including 13 months in the European Theater of Operations. By 1961, he had obtained the rank of Sergeant Major and on that occasion said, “I hope I may continue to serve my country in a manner that is worthy of the honor it has given me.” My father never had the opportunity to attend college (as was the case for all members of his family), but he did have a fascination with mathematics. I recall watching him at the study of trigonometry on the post at Fort Bliss. He especially enjoyed his command of understanding equations describing motion. These are related, of course, to artillery accuracy. During the “space race,” he brought home books about it for me to read. These fired my imagination with the idea that the lights (stars) seen in the night sky were places to which one might travel. I dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but also instinctively knew that science was the means by which one might reach the stars… however distant. This marked the beginning of my lifelong pursuit of the study of science…

[Read Dr. Gates’ STEM story in full with his Congressional testimony at: AMERICA WINS WHEN AMERICA COMPETES.]

World War II Veteran Staff Sergeant S. J. Gates, Sr. is honored with a brick at the Battle of the Bulge Memorial in Lake Eola Park and a 2022 Independence Day Flag.                  (Photo: JTRACY) 

It seems that your peers certainly recognize your talents and your accomplishments because I read that you were appointed Regents Professor by the University of Maryland, their highest honor in recognition of your exceptional academic and research achievements. [ Dr. Gates was also named the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland in 1998, becoming the first African American to hold an endowed chair in Physics at a major U.S. research university.] You have a number of Firsts as you know. [Dr. Gates is the first recipient of the American Physical Society’s Edward A. Bouchet Award. ] You were elected to the Academy of Science as the first African American Theoretical Physicist so recognized in its 150 year history. And you served as the President of the Society of Black Physicists. So what was that like?

So this was back in the 90’s. And it’s part of another constant theme in my life which goes back to my time at MIT. I told you that my first encounter with instruction was as a tutor in Project  Interphase and that led to my being an instructor. But even prior to being a tutor in Project Interphase, during my freshman- no, in my sophomore year at MIT, I along with two other sophomores, one by the name of Ines Hope, and the other, William Scott, the three of us made a set of observations. Remember I told you that I was an undergraduate at MIT when it first made the decision along with most major universities that it would be okay for African Americans to study with other Americans? But that meant that when we began our studies we had very little access to materials that other students had. Particularly if you look at most college fraternities, they at MIT at that time and I suspect now, they kept multiple year records of exams that members of fraternities could use to study for exams when they were preparing for them.  

The Black Student Union Tutorial Program

This is not unusual. And there were other student groups on campus who also had records of what professors’ exams would look like going back maybe a decade or so. Since we African Americans were not typically allowed to be part of these social activities, it meant that our community was at a disadvantage. And so Bill Scott, Ines Hope and I started what we called the Black Student Union Tutorial Program. So that African American students, we were sophomores, so we were worried about the freshman, so that our freshman African American students could have some resources available to them to help. So this has always been part of what I do in my career is if I can see that I can fulfill an instructional need then I will do so. So fast forward now several decades, and I’m doing it again. And, that’s the genesis of the work that you really asked me about. It really goes back that far.

2013 seemed like a big year for you… You were awarded the National Medal of Science by the President of the United States. What was it like for you and your family to go to The White House?

It’s funny that you should ask that question because lots of stuff happened that day. So let me talk about one of the most unusual things, before we got to The White House, actually. So all the recipients, because these ceremonies typically have about 20 recipients, ten for the National Medal of Science and ten for the National Medal of Innovation. So these recognize both people who do science and people who apply to make the world a better place. So all of the recipients were on a bus going from our hotel to The White House and the engine in the bus caught fire. And so, we all had to get off of the bus. Now some of the recipients, this ceremony is actually on YouTube so you can actually watch the entire ceremony, some of our colleagues were quite advanced in age so getting off the bus was not as simple with people who were mobility challenged as those of us who weren’t. So it was inspiring to watch young Secret Service agents go on to the bus to help some of our more elderly members get off the bus and get on another bus and then we went to The White House. So that was the start of the adventures that day. And while we were at The White House, of course, President Obama came into the room and again as I said all this you can actually see a YouTube video of the ceremony. 

“You can be a kid on an Army base dreaming about becoming a Scientist.”

It begins with his speech. And at the beginning of his speech he says something like, you can be a kid on an Army base dreaming about becoming a scientist. And I was utterly stunned because I knew he was talking about me. By that time, of course, it was 2013. Since 2009 I had been in meetings with President Obama so he knew me and I knew him at that level, but I was stunned especially when I saw the written copy of the speech because that line is not in the written copy that I saw.

A Joke for President Obama

So it was gratifying, but something terrible sort of happened. In calling me up to get the medal he said, “Come get your award, Sylvester.” And again, you can see this on the video. Now I had spent the week or so beforehand trying to think of a joke that he might enjoy. And so, two days before the ceremony I had decided I was not going to tell him the joke because it was supposed to be a serious event. But when he said, “Come get your award, Sylvester”, some strange things happened between my ears. First, nobody typically calls me Sylvester but my mom and secondly she only calls me that when she’s upset with me. And so when he did that, that triggered some things in my head and I said I’m going to tell him my joke. I got up on the stage and I leaned over, and I whispered my joke. The joke is only like four or five lines, and again if you watch the video you can see this happening. I whispered my joke to him and he guffawed. There’s actually a picture of him with his mouth totally agape. The picture was taken over my shoulder on the right hand side and he loved my joke. The entire time that I was on the stage with him he was more or less giggling about my joke. And so, after he put the medal on my neck I was supposed to stand next to him to get a picture with him. But I was so nervous at that point that as soon as he put the medal over my neck I shot down off stage. So I missed having my picture taken with The President of the United States because of my joke.

Well, I haven’t seen the video but I did see online pictures of the two of you together. There’s the person standing, waiting with the medal and then the two of you together. And I don’t know what the joke is yet.

Nobody knows.

It’s a secret.

Yeah, it’s a secret. Maybe I’ll share it at some distant point in the future.

But I did see, I thought it was a very nice photo of you with your family at the event where there’s a display, I guess, for you. And you and your family are there in front of the display.

Yes, the four of us actually did get a chance to meet the President, so he met my wife and my children, and to take a picture with him. Yes, but my individual picture was never taken.

Well, maybe that can be arranged, a special session.

That would be interesting.

So we mentioned your family, so I don’t know if you’re comfortable talking about your family or if you prefer to keep that private?

I’m comfortable talking about my family. First of all, for anyone who wants to find out there’s so much online about us, it’s very easy. I was the commencement speaker at my children’s graduation ceremony so that photograph is online in one of the campus papers at the University of Maryland. My wife was part of the platform party that day. And so there’s actually a picture of the four of us that day. And so, like I said if anyone wants to find out about us, it’s really easy. 

Let me just say that my wife is a medical doctor. She’s a pediatrician. She’s now been in practice for over 30 years in Charles County, Maryland. But she’s also the Health Officer of the County, so she’s one of the people that’s been trying to guard the public’s health in the face of the pandemic. 

My children, my daughter is currently studying black holes at the Physics Department at Princeton University. So she’s a post doc now and she wants to be a professor in the future. My son is still in graduate school. He’s probably about two years away from his Ph.D. He works in a, he’s a biology major, but he works in the laboratory of a physicist. So he’s probably going to be a biophysicist. That means both children will be some flavor of physicist which I never dreamed of. I remember the first time I realized that I was utterly stunned that my children might become physicists. So that’s who we are as a family. Some people say we’re a STEM family, I guess, in some ways we are.  

And are you still an ordinary family though? It’s hard to imagine the level, I mean… do you still talk, eat dinner together, go for walks, take vacations together?

Yeah, yeah, in fact, it’s interesting you say vacation. During the first year that the kids were in graduate school after graduating, during spring vacation my wife said, “You know, this may be the last time the four of us get a chance to take a vacation together.” And so, the four of us spent about a week together out in the Bay area together as a family running from Silicon Valley up to Wine Country, Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, UC Berkeley, all over the Bay area. And taking a cruise out to the Golden Gate Bridge and going up on the Clock Tower and going to Fisherman’s Wharf, all of those sorts of touristy things. Seeing Chinatown. Seeing the Haight-Ashbury, the home of the hippies in the 60’s and 70’s. We did all that tourist stuff in that week. And so, yeah, we still sort of hang together. 

That’s wonderful!

 

Listen:  Part V of V  (17:36)

 

 

Well, I wanted to touch on, at least mention, in addition to being such an outstanding success in this country, you recently were honored with the 2021 Andrew Gemant Award, “Science for All Jim Gates” and that’s from the American Institute of Physics, but you also have international status and international recognition. Would you want to talk a little bit maybe about some of the work, because I think it might inspire others. You certainly have proven your dedication and loyalty to our country, and you also serve in other high roles. You were elected Fellow of the South African Institute of Physics. You have an upcoming program Africans in Physics for the South Sudanese… and Australia. Do you want to talk a little bit about your international approaches and associations?

Advisor to the President of the Korean Scientists and Engineers Association

Sure. Thank you very much for asking me the question. The international components of my career line up with what I do nationally. So, for example, I have served as an advisor to The President of the Korean Scientists and Engineers Association, and in the this capacity I met with the Ex-Prime Minister of Korea, Prime Minister Chang. I have met with members of the South Korean (equivalent) Congressional Delegations and Science Committees and the heads of scientific research foundations in Korea.

Advising the South African Government 

In South Africa I have advised the government on investments in their national physics infrastructure. So, this occurred in 2004. So South Africa is a very interesting case because I don’t think most Americans understand that South Africa developed nuclear weapons during their apartheid era so that if there was a mass revolution of Black Africans, the white South Africans would have had nuclear weapons to put it down. So they developed nuclear weapons. And so, the infrastructure for nuclear weapons doesn’t come about by magic. It takes a large industrial type infrastructure. And that infrastructure in the early 2000’s, the question was now that the government had moved past racialized form of government how should that infrastructure be used for the economic benefit of all South Africans? And so, I was one of the people that was asked to address this question. We were part of a delegation of international scientists, some from Europe, let’s see there were two from Europe, one from England, one from France. We had some other South African colleagues with us and I can’t recall, but maybe a colleague from Asia or Australia.  And so, we were in the country looking at this infrastructure and looking at the educational system around it.

International Panel Report: “Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa” 

And so, we wrote a report called “Shaping the Future of Physics for South Africa”, which we laid out some principles about how this national infrastructure could be used to put South Africa in a better economic situation as we move forward in time. Well, it turns out this report although it was directed to the incoming South African government; South Africa is a regional superpower. And so, what happens in South Africa influences essentially all of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Fellow of the South African Institute of Physics

And so, this report which we wrote has actually influenced the development of science on the entire continent, Sub-Saharan Continent. And so, that’s another one of the things that I’ve been able to have a hand in, I’m rather amazed. That was one of the principle reasons why I became the Fellow of the South African Institute of Physics was in recognition of that work.

Scientific Infrastructure Consultation in Australia, Chile, and Venezuela

We have done smaller scale things like that in Australia working with some of the National Research Foundations there. I’ve also consulted with officials in the scientific infrastructure in Chile some years ago and in Venezuela some years ago. So my public policy work does have an international dimension, because people find out that I’ve done this here in the U.S. and therefore they’re just curious what I think about what is going on in their country. 

Excellent. Thank you.

And getting back to the U.S., you were awarded as I mentioned the 2021 Andrew Gemant Award from the American Institute of Physics and you’ve chosen to give that award to an institution. Do you want to tell us about that?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell you about it. So the Andrew Gemant Prize is an award that the American Institute of Physics gives and it’s not for physics research. It’s really for working at physics in a way that it touches on humanitarian causes and public outreach to understand physics and all sorts of things and policy. And the award has a grant which normally is given to colleges and universities. And so, I arranged for the grant to go to Jones High School in Orlando, Florida. And as I understand it, this is the first time in the history of the award that the grant has gone to a high school.  

Thank you. I know that you have many things to do and you have been so very generous with your time for the Orange County Library System. Is there any other topic that you would like to talk about today?

Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Well, there is one related to the Gemant Award since you brought that up. Today is Monday. This previous Saturday I actually gave a speech associated with that award at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The title of my speech was “Proving Science Right”. And I, like a lot of scientists are deeply concerned about the direction that our country is taking. Part of it is, for me personally, a concern about the fact that it looks like our country is in some ways going to repeat the history of South Africa after 1948 where you had a very racialized politics. And it looks like what we’re headed into here. We’ll see how the next set of elections go, but it looks like perhaps hundreds of thousands or even millions of African Americans are not going to be permitted to vote in this country. And that’s part of my concern. 

“Science is all about Evidence.”

But also part of my concern, is that has been enabled by the assertion that our last election was not honest. When all the evidence that’s available from experts like the FBI and our security agencies inform us that was not the case. And yet, millions of Americans were willing to act on this statement with no evidence at all. This is extraordinarily dangerous for science because you see science is all about evidence. And we can see this playing out with the Covid pandemic. That again, the scientists are saying one thing and there are non-scientists saying something completely opposite. And large fractions of the public decide that they will not trust the scientists. 

The China Initiative

We also have in this country, pursued in the last few years something called The China Initiative where the FBI principally and the Department of Justice has pursued cases of what they claim to be espionage against principally Chinese scientists. And in large number of these cases, these accusations don’t stand up in court. 

Brain Drain

 All of this that I just described: racialized politics, a public that seems to be losing a belief in science, and a move to create scapegoats, is pushing a number of non-American born scientists to consider the question of leaving the United States. This is what’s called a “brain drain”.  Because some of these people are the most accomplished scientists in our country. And yet, we seem, at least a large fraction of our public seems, dedicated to this idea that this is the right way to go. Well, if we wind up really implementing this brain drain, our country’s going to be much, much weaker, and Science in this country is going to be much, much weaker than I could have possibly dreamed when I first started worrying about this two years ago. So, yes, I’m going to put this on record that our country is headed in a very dangerous direction. And it is not at all clear that we’re going to avoid the most dire consequences.

I had a question on my list, our time is limited, but I did have a question related to the Brain Drain in another way and I hope you don’t mind if I ask it?

Sure, go ahead.

Another question I have is I’m sure that you’re aware that the physicist Arthur Ashton received the Nobel Prize at age 96… Arthur Ashton had retired from Bell Labs but he continued doing research. In this area of Orlando, we have lots of people who have a lot of brain power, that function at a very high level as far as their careers working in defense and tech and then they retire. We’re living in a time right now when there seems to be a lot of fluidity in the workplace and people are approaching things differently. We had the advent of the encore career before the pandemic, so things are changing. My question is do you foresee a time when we might have more people, more of an inter-generational approach to STEM education? And to have more of an invigorating participation in STEM. There are people who just love to do science like you, who have spent their lives behind the scenes working in defense, but they live for doing science. They’re just, maybe they retired. So I wondered if you think things might change in the future, that we have more people participating at all different demographic levels?

You know, that’s a great question and I don’t know how to answer it. I’m a World War II history buff I have been since the 1990’s, and the history that I know from the 1920’s and 30’s to some degree seems as though it’s repeating itself now. There’s this very famous saying that history doesn’t actually repeat itself but it echoes. And it seems like we’re in one of those periods where it’s echoing. And what I fear is that we’re in store for some very, very dark times ahead. And so, I don’t know. I just don’t know how to answer your question because what I see is the gathering clouds.

Okay. Well, I wanted to mention your book, Proving Einstein Right. People did persevere. I really admired the search for accuracy that was part of this book and part of the history of science. Thank you for providing this book, we’ve added it to the Orange County Library System Collection for others to read.

[An archival copy of Proving Einstein Right: The Daring Expeditions That Changed How We Look At The Universe by S. James Gates, Jr., “The Parramore Physicist”, with the inscription “To Orlando students, may you pursue the world before you with vision, passion, stamina, and science leading you!” is in the Florida Collection  of the Orlando Public Library in addition to the circulating copy of the book in the relativity section.]

 

Published in 2019.

Thank you for honoring us by having it as an addition. My coauthor is an amazing novelist. And as you’ve read the book, you know this is not your typical science book. This is really about the people who do science, not about the science. We tried to tell a story with all of its twists and turns and complications. So that people who are not scientists can have a better sense that scientists live lives that our challenged just like everyone else.

Yes. And thank you for your honesty today in talking with us and telling about your own life. I’m sure later I’ll look at this interview and I’ll think there were so many achievements that we weren’t able to cover in the time that we had. But we certainly appreciate you spending time with us and answering my questions so generously. Thank you for your significant contribution to Science, specifically your visionary original research.

Thank you so much for the honor. And I hope that this oral interview and the resulting products will be of use in the future to people.  

 

Interview: Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr.

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: February 21, 2022

Place: Orlando Public Library meeting via Zoom.

 

 

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Jim Gates at age 19 predicting a computer age when people use "numbers instead of names and credit cards instead of money".

Jim Gates at age 19 predicting a computer age when people use "numbers instead of names and credit cards instead of money"....

World War II S/S S. J. Gates, Sr. is honored with a brick at Lake Eola Park's Battle of the Bulge Memorial

World War II Staff Sergeant S. J. Gates, Sr. is honored with a brick at Lake Eola Park’s Battle of the Bulge...

Superspace: One Thousand and One Lessons in Supersymmetry, Cover of 1983 copy. by Dr. S. James Gates, Jr.

Superspace: One Thousand and One Lessons in Supersymmetry, Cover of 1983 copy. by Dr. S. James Gates, Jr., et al. The book...

Superspace: One Thousand and One Lessons in Supersymmetry, Illustrated edition published in 2009. by Dr. S. James Gates, Jr.

Superspace: One Thousand and One Lessons in Supersymmetry, Illustrated edition published in 2009. by Dr. S. James Gates, Jr., et al....

Book Cover for L'arte della Fisica by S. James Gates, Jr.

Book cover for L'arte della Fisica by S. James Gates, Jr. Published in Italian in 2006, "Ispirato dall’esempio del padre...", inspired by...

Book Cover for Reality in the Shadows by S. James Gates, Jr.

2017 Book cover for Reality in the Shadows or What the Heck's the Higgs by S. James Gates, Jr., et al. Excerpt from...

World War II Veteran Staff Sergeant S. J. Gates, Sr. is honored with a brick at the Battle of the Bulge Memorial in Lake Eola Park and a 2022 Independence Day Flag 

World War II Staff Sergeant S. J. Gates, Sr. is honored with a brick at Lake Eola Park's Battle of the Bulge...

2019 Book Cover for Proving Einstein Right: The Daring Expeditions That Changed How We Look At The Universe by S. James Gates, Jr. and Cathie Pelletier.

2019 Book Cover for Proving Einstein Right: The Daring Expeditions That Changed How We Look At The Universe by S. James Gates,...

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Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr.

I am an actual research scientist who is still active discovering things that no one else in the world has found prior to my finding them... Excerpt from an Oral History Interview with Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr. on Presidents' Day, February 21, 2022.

Dr. S. James Gates, Jr. is the Brown Theoretical Physics Center Director, Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, an Affiliate Mathematics Professor and a Faculty Fellow, Watson Institute for International Studies & Public Affairs at Brown University. He is the Clark Leadership Chair of Science at the University of Maryland with a joint appointment in the Department of Physics and the School of Public Policy. He is an American Theoretical Physicist, internationally known for his work in supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. Dr. Gates was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and is the first African American Theoretical Physicist recognized in the 150 year history of the organization. President Obama honored Dr. Gates with the National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony in 2013. In 2020, Dr. Gates and two graduate students used his previous methods and mathematical algorithms to solve an 11D supergravity problem that involved 4,294,967,296 functions. Dr. Gates is the recipient of the American Institute of Physics 2021 Andrew Gemant Award which he dedicated to Jones High School in Orlando, Florida. Jones High School Valedictorian Jim Gates, Jr. also offers an annual $1,000.00 award to the top student in math/science at Jones High School.   

We invite you to listen to this oral history interview with Florida native Jim Gates!

Listen: (1:46:31).
Interview: Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr.

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: February 21, 2022

Place: Orlando Public Library meeting via Zoom.




Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr., Part I of V (17:08)

Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr., Part I of V (17:08)
Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr.

I am an actual research scientist who is still active discovering things that no one else in the world has found prior to my finding them... Excerpt from an Oral History Interview with Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr. on Presidents' Day, February 21, 2022.

Dr. S. James Gates, Jr. is the Brown Theoretical Physics Center Director, Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, an Affiliate Mathematics Professor and a Faculty Fellow, Watson Institute for International Studies & Public Affairs at Brown University. He is the Clark Leadership Chair of Science at the University of Maryland with a joint appointment in the Department of Physics and the School of Public Policy. He is an American Theoretical Physicist, internationally known for his work in supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. Dr. Gates was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and is the first African American Theoretical Physicist recognized in the 150-year history of the organization. President Obama honored Dr. Gates with the National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony in 2013. In 2020, Dr. Gates and two graduate students used his previous methods and mathematical algorithms to solve an 11D supergravity problem that involved 4,294,967,296 functions. Dr. Gates is the recipient of the American Institute of Physics 2021 Andrew Gemant Award which he dedicated to Jones High School in Orlando, Florida. Jones High School Valedictorian Jim Gates, Jr. also offers an annual $1,000.00 award to the top student in math/science at Jones High School.

We invite you to listen to this oral history interview with Florida native Jim Gates!

(Full length interview is 1:46:31.)

Interview: Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr.

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: February 21, 2022

Place: Orlando Public Library meeting via Zoom




Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr., Part II of V (18:25)

Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr., Part II of V (18:25).

I am an actual research scientist who is still active discovering things that no one else in the world has found prior to my finding them... Excerpt from an Oral History Interview with Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr. on Presidents' Day, February 21, 2022.

Dr. S. James Gates, Jr. is the Brown Theoretical Physics Center Director, Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, an Affiliate Mathematics Professor and a Faculty Fellow, Watson Institute for International Studies & Public Affairs at Brown University. He is the Clark Leadership Chair of Science at the University of Maryland with a joint appointment in the Department of Physics and the School of Public Policy. He is an American Theoretical Physicist, internationally known for his work in supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. Dr. Gates was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and is the first African American Theoretical Physicist recognized in the 150-year history of the organization. President Obama honored Dr. Gates with the National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony in 2013. In 2020, Dr. Gates and two graduate students used his previous methods and mathematical algorithms to solve an 11D supergravity problem that involved 4,294,967,296 functions. Dr. Gates is the recipient of the American Institute of Physics 2021 Andrew Gemant Award which he dedicated to Jones High School in Orlando, Florida. Jones High School Valedictorian Jim Gates, Jr. also offers an annual $1,000.00 award to the top student in math/science at Jones High School.

We invite you to listen to this oral history interview with Florida native Jim Gates!

(Full length interview is 1:46:31.)

Interview: Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr.

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: February 21, 2022

Place: Orlando Public Library meeting via Zoom




Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr., Part III of V (30:49)

Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr., Part III of V (30:49)

I am an actual research scientist who is still active discovering things that no one else in the world has found prior to my finding them... Excerpt from an Oral History Interview with Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr. on Presidents' Day, February 21, 2022.

Dr. S. James Gates, Jr. is the Brown Theoretical Physics Center Director, Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, an Affiliate Mathematics Professor and a Faculty Fellow, Watson Institute for International Studies & Public Affairs at Brown University. He is the Clark Leadership Chair of Science at the University of Maryland with a joint appointment in the Department of Physics and the School of Public Policy. He is an American Theoretical Physicist, internationally known for his work in supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. Dr. Gates was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and is the first African American Theoretical Physicist recognized in the 150-year history of the organization. President Obama honored Dr. Gates with the National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony in 2013. In 2020, Dr. Gates and two graduate students used his previous methods and mathematical algorithms to solve an 11D supergravity problem that involved 4,294,967,296 functions. Dr. Gates is the recipient of the American Institute of Physics 2021 Andrew Gemant Award which he dedicated to Jones High School in Orlando, Florida. Jones High School Valedictorian Jim Gates, Jr. also offers an annual $1,000.00 award to the top student in math/science at Jones High School.

We invite you to listen to this oral history interview with Florida native Jim Gates!

(Full length interview is 1:46:31.)

Interview: Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr.

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: February 21, 2022

Place: Orlando Public Library meeting via Zoom




Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr., Part IV of V (21:59)

Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr., Part IV of V (21:59).

Dr. S. James Gates, Jr. is the Brown Theoretical Physics Center Director, Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, an Affiliate Mathematics Professor and a Faculty Fellow, Watson Institute for International Studies & Public Affairs at Brown University. He is the Clark Leadership Chair of Science at the University of Maryland with a joint appointment in the Department of Physics and the School of Public Policy. He is an American Theoretical Physicist, internationally known for his work in supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. Dr. Gates was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and is the first African American Theoretical Physicist recognized in the 150-year history of the organization. President Obama honored Dr. Gates with the National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony in 2013. In 2020, Dr. Gates and two graduate students used his previous methods and mathematical algorithms to solve an 11D supergravity problem that involved 4,294,967,296 functions. Dr. Gates is the recipient of the American Institute of Physics 2021 Andrew Gemant Award which he dedicated to Jones High School in Orlando, Florida. Jones High School Valedictorian Jim Gates, Jr. also offers an annual $1,000.00 award to the top student in math/science at Jones High School.

We invite you to listen to this oral history interview with Florida native Jim Gates!

(Full length interview is 1:46:31.)

Interview: Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr.

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: February 21, 2022

Place: Orlando Public Library meeting via Zoom




Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr., Part V of V (17:36)

Oral History Interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr., Part V of V (17:36).

I am an actual research scientist who is still active discovering things that no one else in the world has found prior to my finding them... Excerpt from an Oral History Interview with Dr. S. James "Jim" Gates, Jr. on Presidents' Day, February 21, 2022.

Dr. S. James Gates, Jr. is the Brown Theoretical Physics Center Director, Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, an Affiliate Mathematics Professor and a Faculty Fellow, Watson Institute for International Studies & Public Affairs at Brown University. He is the Clark Leadership Chair of Science at the University of Maryland with a joint appointment in the Department of Physics and the School of Public Policy. He is an American Theoretical Physicist, internationally known for his work in supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. Dr. Gates was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and is the first African American Theoretical Physicist recognized in the 150-year history of the organization. President Obama honored Dr. Gates with the National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony in 2013. In 2020, Dr. Gates and two graduate students used his previous methods and mathematical algorithms to solve an 11D supergravity problem that involved 4,294,967,296 functions. Dr. Gates is the recipient of the American Institute of Physics 2021 Andrew Gemant Award which he dedicated to Jones High School in Orlando, Florida. Jones High School Valedictorian Jim Gates, Jr. also offers an annual $1,000.00 award to the top student in math/science at Jones High School.

We invite you to listen to this oral history interview with Florida native Jim Gates!

(Full length interview is 1:46:31.)

Interview: Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr.

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: February 21, 2022

Place: Orlando Public Library meeting via Zoom




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