As John Preskill correctly predicted, Michael Boris Green and John Henry Schwarz won the 2014 Fundamental Physics Prize "for opening new perspectives on quantum gravity and the unification of forces." See The Guardian.
Congratulations to the well-deserved $3 million to each! The ceremony will take place on January 27th and will be aired since 9 pm by the Science Channel. To appease the San Francisco liberals, Green and Schwarz will be presented as psychics. ;-)
The names Green and Schwarz appear together in 94 TRF blog entries and even though they were the candidates I know least in person, I was suckled upon their papers, kind of.
Sometime in 1986 or so, I read a popular article in VTM (Science and Tech for Youth), my favorite magazine, called "Six Extra Dimensions or a Theory of Everything" which introduced the readers to the First Superstring Revolution and rightfully presented Green and Schwarz as the heroes. Two pictures of each of them was a part of the article – I would still recognize the pictures.
In Fall 1992, I came to Prague's Charles University and could finally access all the articles in the library. That included Green and Schwarz's "Superstring Field Theory" – a no-nonsense ghost-free light-cone gauge description of the full superstring theory that became my mother tongue, sort of. This early exposure to the light cone gauge made it much easier to me to embrace Matrix theory 5 years later.
No doubt, there are billions of other kids on this planet who were similarly suckled upon their papers (OK, at least billions of nanokids). But only one of these kids could have started the Wikipedia articles on Green and Schwarz on May 10th, 2004. ;-)
To be sure, John Schwarz is one of the early heroes of the 1970s who would already develop the theory in the Biblical times when only a dozen of people appreciated its importance. Along with André Neveu, he would develop the "antiperiodic" (Neveu-Schwarz) sector of the \(D=10\) superstring. In 1974, he and Joel Scherk determined that string theory was nothing less than a consistent theory of quantum gravity. That was an important observation, one that clarified the main reason why string theory is so important.
Michael Green was a major pre-revolutionary addition to string theory in the late 1970s. They would steadily work on their superstring research in the early 1980s but the revolution erupted with the finding of a particular technical result in 1984, the Green-Schwarz anomaly cancellation.
They proved that type I superstring theory – one with unorientable and both open and closed superstrings – exactly cancels the anomalies. That was very surprising because due to the "generic" vague arguments, it was believed that the gauge, gravitational, and/or mixed anomalies in the local symmetries have to be nonzero which would mean that the theory is inconsistent.
After all, the theory was left-right-asymmetric and there were about five "random" coefficients each of which would have to be exactly zero for the theory to be consistent. They had no obvious reason to vanish so it was believed that they had to be nonzero – at least some of them (one could only adjust a single number, the number of colors, so that's not enough to make five random numbers vanish). However, they proved that when you calculate the coefficients properly, all of them vanish for the \(SO(32)\) gauge group.
That was a sufficiently nontrivial result to be sure that "something powerful must be going on" but it was also sufficiently comprehensible for many other people to follow. The resulting theory, \(SO(32)\) type I string theory, already had "all the rough kinds of matter and fields" (when it comes to the spin and chirality) that are needed for a theory of everything. Truly realistic models emerged within the \(E_8\times E_8\) heterotic string theory emerged a year later – we know that heterotic string theories are related to one another by a T-duality and the \(SO(32)\) heterotic string theory is equivalent to type I string theory via S-duality. The anomaly cancellation conditions remarkably and nontrivially work for both of these rank-16, dimension-496 Lie groups.
Quite suddenly, people had a consistent theory of quantum gravity (at least to all loops) that also had all the other "classes" of particle species (associated with gauge fields and generations of fermions) needed to describe all the known phenomena in Nature. And it had some demonstrable underlying power to cancel all illnesses that seem to go well beyond the abilities of quantum field theories to cure themselves. Since that time, no knowledgeable and up-to-date high-energy physicist had any serious doubts that string theory was, to say the least, the right next step one has to make after quantum field theory in the quest for an accurate theory of Nature's fundamental forces and matter.
The important results were announced during a theater play in Aspen, Colorado in which John Schwarz starred as a lunatic who screamed that he had found a theory of everything. Not everyone understood that the play was actually a documentary. I discussed the circumstances of the Green-Schwarz discovery in 2004 and especially in a 2009 article which also shows you the anomaly functional copied from Polchinski's textbook.
Along with Edward Witten, Green and Schwarz also wrote the first canonical textbook on the subject, "Superstring Theory" (two volumes, Cambridge University Press, 1987). A librarian in Prague saw how excited I was about those things so she has actually xeroxed both volumes for me – for free – sometime in 1993 or so. ;-)
Their activity didn't end with the First Superstring Revolution at all. Green and Schwarz wrote 150+ or 200+ papers respectively with 100 or so citations per paper in average. Lots of later papers have influenced many string researchers. Schwarz would write many influential enough papers about SUGRA, D-brane and fivebrane actions, kappa symmetry, manifest duality in actions, Chern-Simons theory, and other topics. Green would add lots of papers on D-brane actions, instantons, multiloop behavior and finiteness of SUGRA and string theory (often discussed on this blog, mainly because misinformation questioning the finiteness of string theory belongs among the favorite talking points of the anti-string cranks), and many others.
Am article about their contributions may easily get insanely long and I decided to recommend you some of the 94 blog posts with their names instead.