Steven Gubser, a Bright Star in the Physics Universe, Dies at 47

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One of their papers, published in 1998, when Dr. Gubser was a doctoral student, has been cited more than 9,500 times, an extraordinary number in the field of high-energy physics.

In recent years, Dr. Gubser used string theory to improve the theoretical understanding of black holes — those gravitational monsters that trap all energy, even light — and superconductors, the materials though which electrons can pass without resistance.

As a professor Dr. Gubser wanted to make theoretical physics more accessible to the public. To that end he wrote two books: “The Little Book of String Theory” (2010) and, with Frans Pretorius, another professor at Princeton, “The Little Book of Black Holes” (2017). Both were published by Princeton University Press.

He also wanted students to enjoy physics — rather than be cowed by it — as much as he did. He created one course at Princeton called “Invitation to Theoretical Physics.”

Sometimes he spiced up his lectures with unusual demonstrations. In a short video he made to promote his first book, he showed how electric conductivity works (and sometimes does not work) by connecting one end of automobile jumper cables to a car battery and the other end to a pair of steel rods. He then grasped the rods in his hands. There was hardly any electrical shock to speak of. Skin, he explained, made a poor connection with the steel rods, so little current passed through the body.

Outside the classroom, his students might see him pedal by on a unicycle, something he had taught himself to ride.

Steven Scott Gubser was born in Tulsa, Okla., on May 4, 1972, and shortly afterward moved with his family to Aspen, Colo. He grew up there and in Denver. He was the second son of Nicholas James Gubser II and Margo Gubser Gardner. His father, a former Rhodes Scholar who had studied anthropology, worked in a variety of capacities while devoting much of his time to rock climbing and mountaineering. Mr. Gubser’s mother taught French and sold real estate.


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