February 3, 2018
Dear Fellows, friends, and members of the Hertz Community,
It is with a heavy heart I write to share the news that Hertz Fellow Joe Polchinski passed away at home this Friday, February 2. He was a dedicated husband and father.
Joe was, additionally, a proud member of the Hertz Community—one who was always generous with his time to talk physics and exchange views on life with any Hertz Fellow, friend, student, or colleague who approached him. I fondly recall meeting Joe for the first time at the fall 2015 Hertz Retreat. He was truly thrilled to be invited by the students! He captivated the audience during his formal talk, and the Q&A extended well beyond the appointed time. He stayed the remainder of the weekend to share ideas and stories with the students. The last time I saw him, he was headed off for a hike with a group, smiling broadly and deeply engaged in a conversation about string theory.
Joe received his Hertz Fellowship in 1975 and, after completing his PhD in Physics at Berkeley, went on to build extraordinary academic and research career, including pioneering contributions to string theory and quantum gravity. He is best known for his discovery of D-branes, structures that appear to be central to the mathematics and physics of string theory. In 1998, Joe completed a two-volume graduate textbook, appropriately titled String Theory, which has become the standard text and reference in the field. From 1992 until his passing, Joe was a faculty member at UC Santa Barbara, including a permanent posting at UCSB's Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.
Joe's contributions were recognized through elections to many of science's distinguished academies and societies, and he was honored multiple times by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, including, most recently, the 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.
We will share information about any formal arrangements to celebrate his life as they are known. Our sympathies go out to his wife, Dorothy Chun, and their sons, as well as his colleagues and other friends. He will be deeply missed by all.
Robbee Baker Kosak
Fannie and John Hertz Foundation