S. James Gates, Jr.

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Most noted for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity and superstring theory, Sylvester James Gates, Jr. first became interested in science at just eight years old when his father bought him an Encyclopedia Britannica set. His father served in the U.S. Army and by the sixth grade, Gates had lived in six cities.

Through the years, the importance of education continued to be a major part of his upbringing. After graduating Jones High School in 1969, Gates earned both his B.S. degrees in mathematics and physics, and his Ph.D. degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

From 1977 to 1980, Gates attended Harvard University as a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. He later accepted teaching roles at various universities, including MIT and Howard University. At MIT, he served as an assistant professor of applied mathematics and director of the Office of Minority Education. At Howard, he served as a professor of physics and the director of the Center for the Study of Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Atmospheres. Gates joined the University of Maryland in 1984, and in 1998, was named the John S. Toll Professor of Physics – the first African-American to hold an endowed chair in physics at a major research university in the country. Gates still holds this position.

Throughout his career, Gates has written or co-written more than 120 research papers about mathematics and theoretical physics, and has been regularly featured on NOVA, a long-running Public Broadcasting Service series on science. In addition to his research, he is an advocate for education and breaking down the complexities of physics so everyone can understand. For instance, in 2006, Gates completed a DVD series consisting of 24 half-hour lectures that explain the complexities of unification theory. Additional media appearances include the 2011 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the BBC Horizon documentary The Hunt for Higgs in 2012.

Gates has received many awards and honors, including being the first recipient of the 1994 American Physical Society’s Edward A. Bouchet Award, earning the 2013 National Medal of Science, being appointed to President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and being nominated by the Department of Energy as one of the USA Science and Engineering Festival’s “Nifty Fifty” speakers.


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