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Princeton physicist Steven Gubser dies in a rock climbing accident in France

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Steven Gubser, a professor of physics at Princeton University, died while rock climbing near Chamonix, France on Aug. 3. He was 47 years old.

Steven Gubser

Gubser was on vacation in Europe with his family and was climbing the Comb Needle, five miles from Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak, when his rope snapped and he fell more than 300 feet. He died at the scene.

Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1972, Gubser attended secondary schools in Aspen and in Denver, and was a star student of physics and mathematics. As a member of the U.S. team at the 1989 International Physics Olympiad in in Warsaw, Poland, he achieved the top individual score.

A 1994 graduate of Princeton University, Gubser was the valedictorian of his class. After completing a one-year master’s degree program at Cambridge University, he returned to Princeton and earned his doctorate degree in 1998. After two years as a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, he returned to Princeton as a faculty member. He was promoted to full professor in 2005.

A renowned scholar of string theory and black holes, he received a number of awards and honors for his research, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists, a Gribov Medal of the European Physical Society, and most recently a Simons Investigator Award. He was one of the founding members of the Princeton Gravity Initiative, and served as associate chair for undergraduate affairs in the physics department. He wrote the popular books “The Little Book of String Theory” and “The Little Book of Black Holes” in collaboration with Frans Pretorius in an effort to communicate abstract theoretical science ideas to general audiences. He also introduced new teaching methods to introductory physics courses at the university.

“This is such a loss for everyone,” said Herman Verlinde, the chair of the physics department at Princeton, in a statement published by the university. “I have known Steve for over 25 years, first as a stellar student and then as an equally stellar faculty colleague and scholar. He truly loved physics and was amazingly good at it. He deeply cared about teaching and sharing his enthusiasm for physics with his students,” Verlinde said. “His energetic presence, disarming humor and cool style made him into one of our most popular teachers and mentors. Princeton was his home and he contributed to the university in many ways. We will dearly miss him.”

Gubser enjoyed unicycling around Princeton with his two younger daughters. They were fixtures in the annual alumni P-rade and the Princeton Memorial Day parades. He was also an accomplished piano player.

He is survived by his wife, Laura Landweber, and their daughters, Cecily, Heidi and Lillian.

A celebration of Gubser’s life is planned for the start of the fall semester. Donations in Gubser’s memory may be made to the Princeton Department of Physics

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

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