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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.

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’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. 

Johnson’s research focus is on quantum gravity, black holes, string theory and particle physics.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 Physics from the University of Southampton in 1992.   

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 2018 he was awarded the Klopsteg Memorial award from the American Association of Physics Teachers, recognizing notable and creative contributions to the teaching of physics.

In 2021 he was made a Fellow of the American Physical Society for "For outstanding contributions to the understanding of strongly coupled field theories and their implications for quantum gravity, black holes, and the physics of extended objects.”

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 TV and film, including National Geographic's Genius, about the life and work of Einstein, Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Agent Carter (S2), Star Trek: Discovery, and Palm Springs. He also wrote and drew a non-fiction graphic book about science, The Dialogues: Conversations about the nature of the universe (MIT Press)

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