Physics Nobel Prize Winner MIT Professor Frank Wilczek on String Theory, Gravitation, Newton & the Big Bang

Physics Nobel Prize Winner MIT Professor Frank Wilczek on String Theory, Gravitation, Newton & the Big Bang

Wilczek is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for the Future of Life Institute, an organization that works to mitigate existential risks facing humanity, particularly existential risk from advanced artificial intelligence.[17]

In 2014, Wilczek penned a letter, along with Stephen Hawking and two other scholars, warning that “Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks.”[18]

Wilczek is also a supporter of the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, an organization which advocates for democratic reform in the United Nations, and the creation of a more accountable international political system.[19]

Wilczek is on the board for Society for Science & the Public. He is a co-founding member of the Kosciuszko Foundation of the Collegium of Eminent Scientists of Polish Origin and Ancestry.[20]

Wilczek has appeared on an episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, where Penn referred to him as “the smartest person [they have] ever had on the show.”


In 1982, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.[21]

Wilczek was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1990 and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993.[22][23]

Wilczek became a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000.[24] He was awarded the Lorentz Medal in 2002. Wilczek won the Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society in 2003. In the same year he was awarded the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics Commemorative Medal from Charles University in Prague. He was the co-recipient of the 2003 High Energy and Particle Physics Prize of the European Physical Society. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2004 was awarded jointly to David J. GrossH. David Politzer and Frank Wilczek “for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction.” Wilczek was also the co-recipient of the 2005 King Faisal International Prize for Science. In that same year, he received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[25] On January 25, 2013, Wilczek received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Science and Technology at Uppsala University, Sweden.[26]

Wilczek holds the Herman Feshbach Professorship of Physics at MIT Center for Theoretical Physics. He has also worked at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara and was also a visiting professor at NORDITA.


Wilczek’s 2004 Nobel Prize was for asymptotic freedom, but he has helped reveal and develop axionsanyonsasymptotic freedom, the color superconducting phases of quark matter, and other aspects of quantum field theory. He has worked on condensed matter physicsastrophysics, and particle physics.

Asymptotic freedom

In 1973, while a graduate student working with David Gross at Princeton University, Wilczek (together with Gross) discovered asymptotic freedom, which holds that the closer quarks are to each other, the less the strong interaction (or color charge) between them; when quarks are in extreme proximity, the nuclear force between them is so weak that they behave almost as free particles. The theory, which was independently discovered by H. David Politzer, was important for the development of quantum chromodynamics. According to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences when awarding Wilczek its Lorentz Medal in 2002,[27]

This [asymptotic freedom] is a phenomenon whereby the building blocks which make up the nucleus of an atom – ‘quarks’ – behave as free particles when they are close together, but become more strongly attracted to each other as the distance between them increases. This theory forms the key to the interpretation of almost all experimental studies involving modern particle accelerators.


Main article: Axion

The axion is a hypothetical elementary particle. If axions exist and have low mass within a specific range, they are of interest as a possible component of cold dark matter.

In 1977, Roberto Peccei and Helen Quinn postulated a solution to the strong CP problem, the Peccei–Quinn mechanism. This is accomplished by adding a new global symmetry (called a Peccei–Quinn symmetry.) When that symmetry is spontaneously broken, a new particle results, as shown independently by Wilczek and by Steven Weinberg.[28][29] Wilczek named this new hypothetical particle the “axion” after a brand of laundry detergent,[30] while Weinberg called it “Higglet.” Weinberg later agreed to adopt Wilczek’s name for the particle.[31]

Although most experimental searches for dark matter candidates have targeted WIMPs, there have also been many attempts to detect axions.[32] In June, 2020, an international team of physicists working in Italy detected a signal that could be axions.[33][34]


Main article: Anyon

In physics, an anyon is a type of quasiparticle that occurs only in two-dimensional systems, with properties much less restricted than fermions and bosons. In particular, anyons can have properties intermediate between fermions and bosons, including fractional electric charge. This anything-goes behavior inspired Wilczek in 1982 to name them “anyons.”[35]

In 1977, a group of theoretical physicists working at the University of Oslo, led by Jon Leinaas and Jan Myrheim, calculated that the traditional division between fermions and bosons would not apply to theoretical particles existing in two dimensions.[36] When Daniel Tsui and Horst Störmer discovered the fractional quantum Hall effect in 1982, Bertrand Halperin (1984) expanded the math Wilczek proposed in 1982 for fractional statistics in two dimensions to help explain it.[37]

Frank Wilczek, Dan Arovas, and Robert Schrieffer analyzed the fractional quantum Hall effect in 1984, proving that anyons were required to describe it.[38][39]

In 2020, experimenters from the Ecole Normale Supérieure and from the Centre for Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies (C2N) reported in Science that they had made a direct detection of anyons.[38][40]

Time crystals

Main article: Time crystal

In 2012 he proposed the idea of a time crystal.[41] In 2018, several research teams reported the existence of time crystals.[42] In 2018 he and Qing-Dong Jiang calculated that the so-called “quantum atmosphere” of materials should theoretically be capable of being probed using existing technology such as diamond probes with nitrogen-vacancy centers.[43][44]

Current research


For lay readers


  • 1988. Geometric Phases in Physics.
  • 1990. Fractional Statistics and Anyon Superconductivity.

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