2011 Maxwell Medal and Prize

Dr Andrei Starinets

University of Oxford

For his contributions to our understanding of the transport properties of systems of strongly coupled quantum fields.

Andrei Starinets is an outstanding theoretical physicist whose work has been at the forefront of major developments that make use of the gauge/gravity correspondence that arises in string theory and relates gauge quantum field theory to gravitational systems in one higher dimension.

His seminal 2001 paper (with Son and Policastro) transformed the understanding of how string theory might apply to real physics. His work is based on applying the gauge/gravity correspondence to determine properties of d-dimensional strongly coupled gauge theory at finite density and temperature in terms of (d+1)-dimensional gravity at weak curvature in anti de-Sitter space in the presence of a black hole.

He applied the correspondence (with Son and Kovtun) to transport properties of the strongly interacting gauge theory plasmas similar to the quark-gluon plasma, which is described by strongly coupled QCD. Their prediction of a surprisingly low universal value for the ratio of shear viscosity to entropy density in those models is in accord with heavy ion experiments - and at present there is no alternative explanation. Subsequently he has been at the forefront of theoretical developments relating the dynamics of black hole horizons to hydrodynamics in the strongly coupled regime of quantum field theories.

Whereas before Andrei’s initial 2001 paper string theory was viewed as a potential description of the properties of elementary particles and cosmology, it is now viewed more broadly as an overarching theoretical framework for studying more general properties of quantum field theory. Most notable are the many connections being made between gravitational systems in the presence of black holes and non-gravitational quantum critical systems, strange metals, high temperature superconductivity, among others.