In the past thirty years there have been deep interactions between mathematics and theoretical physics which have tremendously enhanced both subjects. The focal points of these interactions include string theory, general relativity, and quantum many-body theory.
String theory has been at the center of the ongoing effort to uncover the fundamental principles of nature and in particular to unify Einstein’s geometric theory of gravity with quantum theory. The development of this field has sparked a historically unprecedented synergy between mathematics and physics. Progress at the forefront of theoretical physics has relied crucially on very recent developments in pure mathematics. At the same time insights from physics have led to both new branches of pure mathematics as well as dramatic progress in old branches.
Several examples from the recent past exemplifying this synergy include the prediction from string theory of mirror symmetry, a highly unexpected mathematical equivalence between distinct pairs of Calabi-Yau manifolds. This fueled exciting developments in algebraic, enumerative and symplectic geometry. At the same time the realization of string theory as a phenomenologically viable physical theory depends crucially on detailed mathematical properties of these manifolds. In Einstein’s theory of general relativity the proofs of the positive energy theorem and the stability of flat spacetime were accompanied by fundamental new results in functional analysis, differential geometry and minimal surface theory. In the coming decades we expect many more important discoveries to arise from the interface of mathematics and physics. The Cheng Fund will foster these efforts.
Here is a partial list of the mathematicians who have indicated that they will attend part or all of this special program