Renowned Physicist Dr. Jim Gates speaks for first Rayborn Lecture

Renowned Physicist Dr. Jim Gates speaks for first Rayborn Lecture

This is a news release from The University of Southern Mississippi

An internationally prominent theoretical physicist whose research could revolutionize understanding of the universe's foundational properties is the guest speaker for The University of Southern Mississippi's inaugural Grayson H. and Jane Dishong Rayborn Lecture in Physics and Astronomy April 7.

Dr. Sylvester James Gates, Jr., who is the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, will discuss his research in a field of physics known as supersymmetry, or "SUSY." The free lecture will be held at 6:30 p.m. in Bennett Auditorium on the Hattiesburg campus, and members of the University and local communities are invited.

The lecture series was founded through a gift from former Southern Miss Professor of Physics and Astronomy Dr. Grayson H. Rayborn and his wife Jane. Dr. Chris Winstead, chairman of the USM Department of Physics and Astronomy, praised the Rayborns for their gift and making it possible to bring in a speaker of Gates' stature for the inaugural lecture in the series.

"We are deeply indebted to Dr. and Mrs. Rayborn for the donation that made this event and future lectures possible," Winstead said. "Dr. Rayborn spent his career at Southern Miss helping students achieve their career and life goals, and now in retirement he and Jane have elected to continue positively impacting our students and community."

Dr. Gates' work in supersymmetry, or "SUSY" is related to the Higgs boson discovery at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. The Higgs boson particle, first theorized decades ago but observed only recently in experiments, is critical to achieving a better understanding of subatomic particles, which are the basic building blocks of matter. SUSY predicts that there may be more than one type of Higgs boson, and that there may be numerous types of particles yet to be observed.

If shown to be correct in future experiments, SUSY could shed light on phenomena such as the nature of forces in the early universe or the composition of the dark matter surrounding galaxies.

"Opportunities to hear a speaker the caliber of Dr. Gates are quite rare," Winstead said. "He is truly one of the leading physicists of our day, and well-known for his public outreach."

Gates holds two bachelor's degrees and a Ph.D. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His doctoral thesis was the first one at MIT to deal with supersymmetry. He is a University of Maryland System Regents Professor; director of the String and Particle Theory Center; and serves on the U.S. President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the National Commission on Forensic Science, and the Maryland State Board of Education. In 1984, working with M.T. Grisaru and M. Rocek, W. Siegel, Gates co-authored Superspace, the first comprehensive book on the topic of supersymmetry.

In 2006, he completed a DVD series titled Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality for The Teaching Company composed of 24 half-hour lectures to make the complexities of unification theory comprehensible to non-physicists. He is a past president of the National Society of Black Physicists, and is a NSBP Fellow as well as a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Physics in the U.K. He also is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

In 2013, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, becoming the first African-American physicist so recognized in its 150-year history. In 2013, Gates was awarded the Mendel Medal by Villanova University "in recognition of his influential work in supersymmetry, supergravity and string theory, as well as his advocacy for science and science education in the United States and abroad." President Obama awarded Gates the National Medal of Science in 2013, the highest award given to scientists in the U.S. In 2014, he was named the Harvard Foundation's ''Scientist of the Year.''

Gates currently continues his research in supersymmetry in systems of particles, fields, and strings. In a diversion from his more serious contemplations, he was recently featured in one of a series of tongue-in-cheek TurboTax commercials featuring highly-regarded scientists and mathematicians giving 'advice' on how to use the tax preparation software. For more information about this event, contact the Southern Miss Department of Physics and Astronomy at 601.266.4934; online, visit