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Professor Emeritus Stanley Deser awarded Einstein Medal

Medal honors Deser’s lifelong contributions to General Relativity

Stanley Deser

On a rainy day in Princeton, N.J. in 1953, a young physicist named Stanley Deser sat in a shuttle on his way to work at the Institute for Advanced Study. At the next stop, Albert Einstein climbed in. 
Deser was surprised — sightings of the legendary physicist were rare, even for a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute, where Einstein worked. Deser kept quiet while Einstein chatted away in German with renowned logician Kurt Gödel, who was also taking the shuttle that morning. The memory of that five-minute ride through soggy Princeton six decades ago is still vivid in Deser’s mind.
“I may be one of the last people alive who has been in a car with Einstein,” says the professor emeritus of physics.
But, in some ways, Deser’s career has been one long ride with Einstein — at least theoretically. 
In May, the Albert Einstein Society will award Deser and University of Maryland colleague Charles Misner the prestigious Einstein Medal for their contributions to the study of General Relativity. The ceremony will take place in Bern, Switzerland, where Einstein began his career.

The medal opens the door to a very exclusive club of physicists, whose members include Stephen Hawking, the Institute for Advanced Study’s Edward Witten ’71 H’88, and six Nobel laureates.
Deser joined Brandeis in 1958 and, over the next 50 years, attracted some of the best young minds from around the world to the physics department. He helped organize the Brandeis Summer Institutes in Theoretical Physics, which brought leading physicists to campus and put Brandeis on the map as one of the preeminent universities for theoretical physics.

In 1959, Deser, Misner and their collaborator, the late Richard Arnowitt, published the ADM Formalism, a groundbreaking formulation that offered a new approach to General Relativity, making it more amenable to modern thinking.
Einstein's General Relativity was revolutionary because it reimagined gravity not as force, as Newton described it, but as space curved by matter, through which matter then travels. Deser, Misner and Arnowitt realized that Einstein's curved space could in turn be thought of as a kind of matter, in total accord with the concepts of modern Field Theory. That realization paved the way to unify quantum field theory and general relativity. 
“We were trying to set up a new way of looking at relativity that, in many ways, was the opposite of Einstein’s approach,” says Deser. “Einstein developed the theory in the 1910s and we pushed it into the mid-20th century.” 
The ADM Formalism also laid the groundwork for the development of powerful computer methods to study the complex phenomena governed by General Relativity, including black holes, gravitational waves and neutron stars.
“Without Stanley’s work, our understanding of gravity would not be nearly as far along as it is today,” says physics professor Albion Lawrence.
“It is a particular honor to receive this prize on the centennial of General Relativity,” Deser says. “Scientists have an ambivalent relationship towards prizes, but I must admit to being gratified about this one.”

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