Grant Boosts Particle Physics and Mathematics Research for Two Penn Professors

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Media Contact:Manasee Wagh | | 215-898-9194May 8, 2013

Two University of Pennsylvania professors have won the chance to pursue their research full-time this fall.

The Simons Foundation has awarded fellowships to Mirjam Cvetic of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Ron Donagi of the Department of Mathematics, both in the School of Arts and Sciences. They will receive funded year-long sabbaticals from classroom teaching and academic administration.

“It’s a heartwarming and unexpected gift to have a year to do what I love. Now I have the opportunity to work uninterrupted on new research,” Donagi said.

Announcement of the double award was a happy coincidence for Donagi and Cvetic because their fields of study intersect. They have co-authored several papers dealing with various aspects of string theory.

Donagi's research focuses on the geometric properties of supersymmetry, the theory that known particles such as protons and electrons have counterparts called super-partners with their own particular properties.

"CERN's Large Hadron Collider in Geneva has detected the Higgs particle. The super-partners are the next exciting thing to find," Donagi said. Hopefully, the collider will be able to prove the existence of these elusive particles by recreating them,” he said.

Particle physics explores the foundations of matter and the elementary building blocks of the universe. It helps people uncover how nature works, Cvetic said. The foundation shows vision by funding research of theoretical physics and mathematics because these fields are the backbone of so much other science, she said.

Her research focuses on gravitational theories. In particular, she investigates the fundamental origins of black holes and wants to delve deeper into the connection between string theory and elementary particle physics.

“It so happens that Dr. Donagi’s field in math has strong ties to my work, so it’s a wonderful coincidence that he has received this fellowship in mathematics as well,” she said.

Donagi’s expertise is in the geometry of string theory. He will be pursuing his research at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., where he will join a colleague.

Cvetic will be joining him in the spring after spending this fall working at Penn with visiting scientists.

Fifteen theoretical physicists and 40 mathematicians across the country won Simons Fellowships in 2013.

The fellowships provide salary replacement for as much as 50 percent of the Fellow’s current academic-year salary, to a maximum of $100,000, and as much as $25,000 for expenses related to the leave. The university will receive 20 percent overhead on allowable expenses.

Additional information on the Simons Foundation Fellowship.