2012 Werner Nahm

The Nomination Committee's motivation

"The prize is awarded to Werner Nahm, FRS, for groundbreaking and innovative work on mathematical physics. This includes early investigations on possible supersymmetric structures, as well as an insightful approach to magnetic monopoles."

Abstract of talk ​"Less well known ways the world will change"

From time to time, arcane mathematical ideas cause major changes in the way we live. Sometimes, as in the case of global warming, the ideas take far too long to become common knowledge. Here properties of magnetic monopoles will be used to promote topological quantum computation, which may become essential for us in the near future.

About Werner Nahm

Werner Nahm has broad intellectual interests. He speaks mandarin, has done research on Maya-indian culture in collaboration with leading experts, and has contributed to feasibility studies on renewable energy sources
Werner Nahm was born in 1949 and educated in Frankfurt am Main, München and Bonn, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1972 with a thesis on statistical physics. He was then a staff member at CERN, assistant professor at UC Davis and returned to Bonn as a professor in 1989. Since 2002 he is a professor at Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and the director of the School of Theoretical Physics there.
Werner Nahm is one of the world’s leading mathematical physicists. His works are characterized by great originality and depth, and have often been before their time. Two areas in particular deserve mentioning; Already in the early 1970s he investigated generalized Lie algebras (superalgebras) comprising ”odd” (fermionic) generators. Ongoing experiments at LHC at CERN are searching for such supersymmetries in nature. In a related celebrated article in 1978 he classified all possible supersymmetries in space-times of various dimensions. He thus discovered the symmetries that were later found to lie behind the different string theories in ten dimensions and another symmetry in eleven dimensions that shortly afterwards appeared in a supergravity theory now related to the mysterious ”M-theory”. He also found structures that in addition to supersymmetry comprise conformal transformations, and it was a great surprise when almost twenty years later these were found to have physical realizations as a completely new kind of quantum theories.
His work on magnetic monopoles in non-abelian Yang-Mills theories has been very influential. The Nahm equations are a system of non-linear ordinary differential equations that were originally introduced to construct multi-monopole configurations in analogy with the so called ADHM construction of multi-instanton configurations. They have turned out to be of great interest also in pure mathematics (differential geometry) with deep connections to e.g. complex geometry (the quotient construction of hyper-Kähler manifolds) and integrable systems.

Published: Tue 14 Jan 2014. Modified: Fri 24 Jan 2014