Scientist tells ‘the greatest story ever told’
All 250 of the venue’s seats filled quickly, leaving people to sit along walls and stand at the back of the room to learn about “the greatest story ever told, so far,” from prominent theoretical physicist and science communicator Lawrence Krauss.
Krauss visited Fairbanks last Thursday to deliver a lecture on the scientific understanding of physics and the people who made those discoveries.
“I liked how little I understood,” Bradley Morton said about the depth and breadth of the information that Krauss discussed. Morton is a student studying electrical engineering, computer engineering and computer science.
Krauss started his lecture with the quote, “The hardest thing of all to see is what is really there,” from J.A. Baker’s book “The Peregrine.” This was the theme of his lecture; most important things that learned in physics are things that exist, but that humans can’t see.
Krauss described one of Plato’s allegories: imagine that there is a group of people trapped in a cave and the entrance is behind them. They can’t turn around to see the outside world, they can only see the shadows of whatever passes by. The people would be living in a three dimensional world, but they could only see the two dimensional shadows. A shadow can increase or decrease in size without the real object changing size.
This is similar to how people live in a four dimensional world, but can only see in three dimensions, Krauss said. We can see height, width and length, but we can’t see time.
Krauss brought up Michael Faraday, who discovered key laws of magnetism and electricity.
“He discovered something remarkable, a law that made the modern world possible,” Krauss said about Faraday.
When magnets stick together it is because their “magnetic fields” pull them together. When there is a electric current, like through a wire, it is because there is a “electric field.” What Faraday discovered is that if the magnetic field is changing, like if the magnetic is moving around, it generates an electric field. Faraday showed that the magnetic field and the electric field are really different aspects of the same thing. This is how electric motors “create” electricity, by spinning a magnet around a coil of wire or spinning a coil of wire within a set of magnets.
Another physicist, James Maxwell, proved with mathematics what Faraday had previously discovered. In the process, Maxwell learned that waves in the electric and magnetic fields are equal to the speed of light. He discovered that light is an Electromagnetic Wave.
Krauss then brought up Einstein and how he unified theories from two other past physicists, Galileo Galilei and Issac Newton. Ultimately, Einstein showed that time is relative. If there are two people and one of them is moving fast, the faster one will be experiencing time at a slower rate. Similar, to how for the people trapped in the cave, the size of a shadow would be relative, for us time would be relative.
“Each of us is seeing a different three dimensional slice of a four dimensional reality,” Krauss said.
Krauss described how more recent discoveries in physics theory, like quantum mechanics, play into the narrative. He mentioned the Large Hadron Collider, a facility which was used to discover a new particle. This was particularly interesting to geological engineering study Heni Barnes who attended the talk.
“I liked him talking about his experience with the Hadron Collider and what they thought about being able to find dark matter,” Barnes said, “but first they found the Higgs Boson particle.”
Krauss said that he didn’t expect the Collider to discover the Higgs Boson before discovering what is known as “dark matter.” However, the boson was discovered and dark matter, an invisible material in the universe which affects gravity, has yet to be definitively proven.
“This picture that we’ve developed is so amazing,” Krauss said about the discoveries in physics through history. “They tell us that the world of our experience is an illusion.”
Krauss ended his lecture by stating that people may fear science because it tells them that they’re wrong or that they’re confused, however what humanity has learned just makes life more precious.
“At the end he started talking about how science is not facts, science is a method of observation, experimentation and modeling,” Morton said about the take-away from the lecture. “That’s something that’s really important that a lot of people don’t tend to get.”