Cutting Edge Physics for Us All
Nobel laureates and other top scientists will talk to the public next month about the mind-boggling frontiers of modern physics.
Einstein didn’t know everything.
He understood that light must be a particle as well as a wave, that neither space nor time is immutable, that matter can explode into energy. His insights explained much, but they left jarring puzzles in their wake. Physicists struggled to untangle the often-bizarre implications of Einstein’s theories.
They’re still working on it.
Einstein had some wild ideas.
In 1905 Einstein published three papers so important to science that physicists call it the annus mirabilis–or “miracle year.” One hundred years later, the United Nations declared 2005 “The World Year of Physics” to commemorate Einstein’s creative outburst. Conferences, meetings and educational workshops are taking place around the world to review what Einstein taught–and to explore the questions he left behind.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is hosting one of these: the Physics for the Third Millennium: II conference to be held in the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama, April 5-7, 2005. Sponsors include NASA, the US Army, the American Physical Society, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Although it takes place in “The Rocket City,” the conference is not just space-oriented. “We’re going to talk about the most important open questions in all of physics,” explains Ron Koczor of the MSFC Science and Technology Directorate, the conference’s chairman.
Lectures will explore such cutting-edge topics as the nature of dark energy, antimatter-matter interactions, quantum mechanics and the formation of black holes. Among the speakers are two Nobel Laureates: Leon Lederman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on neutrinos, and Riccardo Giacconi, whose contributions in astrophysics led to the discovery of cosmic X-ray sources. Physicist Lawrence Krauss, who penned “The Physics of Star Trek,” will be the Banquet speaker and talk about “Einstein’s Biggest Blunder, A Cosmic Mystery Story.”
Cutting-edge physics. Nobel laureates. This conference must be for select professionals, right?
“Wrong,” says Koczor. “The conference is open to everyone who is interested in science and physics. The talks will be appropriate for lay people.”
Teachers and students are especially welcomed. The final day of the conference is specifically for them, offering hands-on demonstrations and a panel discussion about careers in physics. Lawrence Krauss will again be on hand to discuss “The Physics of Star Trek” and related topics. (Are you a teacher? Contact the conference’s outreach coordinator, Mitzi Adams, for information about attending.)
It’s important to search for the answers to questions Einstein left behind, believes Koczor. “The physics that we have today is limited in what it can do,” he says. “We’re never going to go to even the nearest star in a person’s lifetime using today’s technology. We need new physics. There are so many open questions in physics, and so many tantalizing clues here and there….” muses Koczor. “Maybe some things are possible that we don’t know about yet.”
Would you like to learn more about those things? Visit the conference website at www.wyp-ptm.org, and stay tuned to Science@NASA for related stories in the weeks ahead.