For those interested in the larger questions of the Universe itself, Lisa Randall’s Sunday wrap-up session in the Maxsaal this afternoon was the place to be.
Randall is a professor of particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University, where she is concerned with theoretical physics. Her research includes elementary particles and fundamental forces, work which she has described with great success in new book “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”.
During today’s talk, Randall first described the work undertaken by her and her colleagues around the world, discovering what underlying principles help guiding our knowledge about the universe.
The work with CERN’s Large Hadron Collider is the type of work that can allow us to see some of these principles, among other things thanks to the right use of scale.
By understanding that certain things can only be understood fully and intuitively if we use the right scale or resolution, we have achieved remarkable scientific insight, Randall said, using the Eiffel Tower as an apt metaphor for the principle of physical exploration and theoretical advances - too close and we don’t see the context, too far away and we miss the details.
Secondly, Randall is also concerned with another big question, which affects most of us almost every day; “Why do we care so much?”
There are distinct approaches to the questions about the universe, and people will turn to one or the other, Randall said. “Art, religion and science are all ways at getting at these big questions,” she added.
To Randall, science will obviously lead the way, but that does not mean that there is no role for the other two, she said. There is a subtle beauty in how different approaches all serve to drive our urge for understanding forward.
Scientific thinking, however, is the engine that will bring us closer to the Universe.
Scientific thinking is creativity and discovery, role of scale, uncertainty and risk, but also truth and beauty, Randall said, before finishing up.
“We’ve come a long way, but there is still a lot to do and a lot to learn.”