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Department of Mathematics - Celebrating Mathematicians

The Celebrating Mathematicians concept was born out of the department's work in Equality and Good Practice. The department aims to highlight prominent Mathematicians, both locally and around the world. Our A Celebration of Mathematicians page highlights other academics featured.

Prof Clifford Johnson

Clifford Victor Johnson is a scientist, writer, and science communicator.  He is a professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Southern California, and has previously worked at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, the University of California, Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study, Durham University and Princeton University.

Johnson’s parents moved to England from the Caribbean Island of Montserrat in 1956 or 1957 during the “Windrush era”.  Johnson was born in London on the 5th March 1968, and spent his early childhood in England before the family returned to Montserrat, where his father worked as a telephone engineer.  Johnson’s father returned to England initially on his own in 1977, and the whole family were reunited and made their home in Preston, Lancashire when Johnson was fourteen years old. 

From an early age Johnson wanted to be a scientist due to his interest in how things worked.  In lieu of a television, he spent time reading and teaching himself electronics, fixing appliances and designing devices such as radios and remote controlled submarines.

Johnson studied at the Imperial College London and graduated in 1989 with a Bachelor of Science in Physics.  He completed his Doctor of Philosophy in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Southampton in 1992.   

Johnson’s research focus is in superstring theory and  particle physics, specifically related to strongly coupled phenomena. 

In 1997, Johnson was awarded the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, and in 2005, he received the Maxwell Medal and Prize from the Institute of Physics for “his outstanding contribution to string theory, quantum gravity and its interface with strongly coupled field theory, in particular for his work on understanding the censorship of singularities and the thermodynamic properties of quantum spacetime."  Also in 2005, Johnson was listed in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education as the most highly cited black professor of Mathematics or a related field at an American university or college.  

In addition to his research and teaching work, Johnson founded the African Summer Theory Institute.  This is an annual month-long conference focusing on a different Science topic each year, and brings together students, researchers and teachers to discuss, network and learn.   

Johnson actively works to promote science to the public through physics outreach,  public lectures, writing, drawing, blogging, filmmaking, guest appearances at  bookstores and  festivals, and through television and online. He regularly appears on the History Channel series The Universe and acts as a science consultant for science fiction films including Avengers: Endgame and Star Trek: Discovery.

For more information on Johnson’s life, his research and achievements please see: Science Hero: Clifford V Johnson