PASADENA, Calif.—Like many Japanese schoolchildren, Hirosi Ooguri read about the physicist Hideki Yukawa, who became Japan's first Nobel laureate in 1949 for predicting the existence of mesons, elementary particles that hold atomic nuclei together. Ooguri says, "I was very impressed by the power of mathematics in discovering how the universe works."
Today, "Ooguri is one of the leading theoretical physicists in the world," says his fellow string theoretician John Schwarz, the Harold Brown Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology. The Institute has named Ooguri as its first Fred Kavli Professor of Theoretical Physics, a new professorship endowed by the Kavli Foundation.
String theory shows promise for unifying a theory of gravity with what physicists call the Standard Model, which successfully describes the other three of nature's four known fundamental interactions. Besides string theory, Ooguri has another long-term project: to help build an infrastructure for physicists exploring at the frontiers of high-energy physics. Specifically, he wants to develop the right mathematical language for quantum gauge theory, which describes how elementary particles interact.
Yet he now believes his two projects are converging, allowing physicists to choose suitable models from either string theory or quantum gauge theory. It could take physics half a century to develop these tools. "You need something analogous to the invention of calculus," he says. "My prejudice is that string theory is in the right direction."
Ooguri received his BA in 1984 and his MA in 1986 from Kyoto University. He earned his PhD at the University of Tokyo in 1989. He worked as an associate professor of physics at the University of Chicago from 1989 to 1990, followed by a four-year stint at Kyoto University as an associate professor of mathematical physics.
In 1994, Ooguri returned to the United States as a professor of physics at UC Berkeley. From 1996 to 2000, he was the faculty senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He arrived at Caltech in 2000 as a professor of theoretical physics.
The Kavli Foundation was established in December 2000 by its founder and benefactor, Fred Kavli, a prominent California business leader and noted philanthropist whose foundation is currently actively involved in establishing major research institutes at leading universities throughout the United States and in Europe and Asia.
Written by John Avery