Eva Silverstein and the new generation of string theorists
|Eva Silverstein with her favorite equations
Eva Silverstein graduated from Harvard
in 1992 and earned her Ph.D. at Princeton in 1996, studying with Ed
Witten. She's earned countless awards already in her exciting career.
She's currently enjoying the San Francisco Bay Area as an assistant
professor at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
String theory has survived long enough
to become a multigenerational enterprise. Can you give us some reflections
on being a member of the younger generation in string theory?
It's true, string theory is a large, multigenerational collaboration
aimed as solving a very fascinating ambitious set of problems. In that
way it's a lot like a high energy experimental collaboration except
without the hierarchical organization. While it's true that most of
the crucial groundwork on perturbative string theory has already been
paid by the older generations, many of the most basic questions remain
unanswered, and those of us in my generation are beginning to make independent
progress on those questions. I've personally had the privilege of working
closely with some others in this generation, such as Shamit Kachru,
Ofer Aharony, Albion Lawrence, Micha Berkooz, and others, and it seems
to me there's a great deal of energy and talent in our generation, which
bodes well for the future.
When did you first become interested in
physics, and when did you first consider that you might become a physicist
I first became interested when I learned what physics was some time
in high school. I had a very interesting high school physics teacher.
I had always enjoyed math and physical science and when I saw the power
of physics to explain and predict physical phenomena through simple
principles and calculations, I became hooked. I was especially fascinated
by special relativity, which starts from a simple physical principle
that the speed of light, and in general all laws of nature, are the
same in all reference frames, and derives through simple high school
algebra amazing consequences such as the fact that time slows down in
moving frames. When I realized that one could produce such things full
time and actually make a living at it, I never really looked back.
What advice would you give to someone
pondering graduate study in theoretical physics? Is there anything about
graduate school you know now that you really wish you had known when
Well, grad school is on the one hand a tremendous opportunity, which
gives people a chance, usually for the first time, to sample different
areas of physics through both study and research and then to freely
pursue their strongest interests. It can also be a highly frustrating
experience, though, since as a student, one is automatically behind
everyone else in the field, and it takes time to catch up. It also takes
a while for people to sort of develop the right temperament, the right
balance between what you want to understand and what you can concretely
access at a given time. And also the balance between learning and creative
activity, creative research. I think some amount of frustration is natural,
and in fact indicates high standards.
Right now at universities all over America,
graduate teaching assistants are trying to form labor unions. Do you
agree with university deans that student assistants who teach are trainees
on financial aid, or do you think they should be considered employees
with collective bargaining rights of their own?
I don't actually know too much about this issue, but my gut reaction
is that TA's are in fact employees and should have such collective bargaining
By appearing on this web site, you are
now a role model for girls all over the world who are interested in
physics. Do you have any advice for a teen out there who might be dreaming
of becoming a theoretical physicist herself one day?
Of course, my advice is to go for it. Learn as much as you can about
what interests you and start to think about what questions you'd most
like to answer. I think though that generally, everyone on the web page,
and everyone in the field, can serve as a role model for aspiring scientists.
One of the great things about science is that it brings together people
from all walks of life, interested in the same questions, who talk about
it in much the same way.