Joseph Polchinski

Hertz Fellow: Joseph Polchinski

University of California, Berkeley

Area of Study


Fellowship Years

1975 - 1980

Joseph (Joe) Polchinski, PhD, is a permanent member of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, and a professor of physics at University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1975, he received his BS in physics from the California Institute of Technology, and in 1980 as a Hertz Fellow, his PhD in physics from University of California, Berkeley. He then held postdoctoral positions at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and Harvard, and was a member of the faculty of the University of Texas, Austin from 1984 to 1992. Polchinski held a Hertz Graduate Fellowship from 1975 to 1980, and NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship from 1980 to 1982, and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship from 1985 to 1989.

Polchinski's contributions to theoretical physics include a modern formulation of renormalization theory and some of the original work on the string landscape. He is best known for his discovery of D-branes, extended 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.

Among his many accolades for his work, Joe was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 1997, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002, a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2005, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012. Moreover, he awarded the 2007 Dannie Heineman Prize in Mathematical Physics of the American Physical Society, the 2008 Dirac Medal of the International Center for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, and the 2013 and 2014 Physics Frontiers Prizes of the Breakthrough Prize in Physics award. Most recently, Joe was the recipient of the 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Physics for transformative advances in quantum field theory, string theory, and quantum gravity


1980 - Vortex Operators in Gauge Field Theories