A professor of physics at the University of Maryland who specializes in fundamental questions of the structure and behavior of the universe has been named a recipient of the National Medal of Science.

Sylvester James Gates, Jr., 62, of the College Park campus was among 12 researchers named by President Obama on Dec. 21 to receive the award at a White House ceremony this year.

The medal, created in 1959 and awarded each year, recognizes what the White House described as extraordinary knowledge and outstanding contributions in science and engineering.

At Maryland, Gates is a professor and also directs the university’s Center for String and Particle Theory, which deals with efforts to find underlying physical laws governing the cosmos.

He holds bachelor’s and PhD degrees from MIT, where his thesis dealt with supersymmetry.

A co-author of the book “Superspace” and known for efforts to popularize science, Gates was a Martin Luther King Jr. visiting scholar at MIT in 2010-2011.