Lisa Randall studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University. Her research connects theoretical insights to puzzles in our current understanding of the properties and interactions of matter. She has developed and studied a wide variety of models to address these questions, the most prominent involving extra dimensions of space. Her work has involved improving our under-standing of the Standard Model of particle physics, supersymmetry, baryogenesis, cosmological inflation, and dark matter. Randall’s research also explores ways to experimentally test and verify ideas and her current research focuses in large part on the Large Hadron Collider and dark matter searches and models.
Randall has also had a public presence through her writing, lectures, and radio and TV appearances. Randall’s books, Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions and Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World were both on the New York Times’ list of 100 Notable Books of the Year. Higgs Discovery: The Power of Empty Space was released as a Kindle Single in the summer of 2012 as an update with recent particle physics developments.
Randall’s studies have made her among the most cited and influential theoretical physicists and she has received numerous awards and honors for her scientific endeavors. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was a fellow of the American Physical Society, and is a past winner of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, a DOE Outstanding Junior Investigator Award, and the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. Randall is an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy and an Honorary Fellow of the British Institute of Physics. In 2003, she received the Premio Caterina Tomassoni e Felice Pietro Chisesi Award, from the University of Rome, La Sapienza. In 2006, she received the Klopsteg Award from the American Society of Physics Teachers (AAPT) for her lectures and in 2007 she received the Julius Lilienfeld Prize from the American Physical Society for her work on elementary particle physics and cosmology and for communicating this work to the public.
Randall has also pursued art-science connections, writing a libretto for Hypermusic: A Projective Opera in Seven Planes that premiered in the Pompidou Center in Paris and co-curating an art exhibit for the Los Angeles Arts Association, Measure for Measure, which was presented in Gallery 825 in Los Angeles, at the Guggenheim Gallery at Chapman University, and at Harvard’s Carpenter Center. In 2012, she was the recipient of the Andrew Gemant Award from the American Institute of Physics, which is given annually for significant contributions to the cultural, artistic, or humanistic dimension of physics.
Professor Randall was on the list of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People" of 2007 and was one of 40 people featured in The Rolling Stone 40th Anniversary issue that year. Prof. Randall was featured in Newsweek's "Who's Next in 2006" as "one of the most promising theoretical physicists of her generation" and in Seed Magazine's "2005 Year in Science Icons". In 2008, Prof. Randall was among Esquire Magazine's “75 Most Influential People.”
Professor Randall earned her PhD from Harvard University and held professorships at MIT and Princeton University before returning to Harvard in 2001. She is also the recipient of honorary degrees from Brown University, Duke University, Bard College, and the University of Antwerp.
Question: What excites you most about your current research?
Lisa Randall: Right now I’m enjoying thinking about what we’ll see at the Large Hadron Collider. What is it that they could find that they’re not looking for yet? Making sure that it’s what we have and making sure it does as much as we can. Also thinking about what we can see in dark matter experiments. Making sure, again, that we’ve considered all of the possibilities and we’ve looked for how to search and what could be out there and to make sure that we can look for other candidates for dark matter, you know, what can it be? So, right now I’m thinking really because we are in this era where these experiments are turning on, so it’s important to really make sure that we use them for all they’re worth.
Question: Apart from science, what’s an area of intellectual inquiry that fascinates you?
Lisa Randall: Well, right now, I’m interested in art and music. I wrote a libretto for a small, what we call a projective opera, which was kind of a different kind of way to communicate ideas to the public. It’s not a linear story where we’re explaining things, but just to communicate why we care about exploration discovery. For me it was just an interesting experience to see what it’s like to do something that is connected with performance. It was performed at the Pompidou Center; it was performed at the Opera House in Barcelona, and that was a very exciting and interesting thing for me.
I think right now it’s also a little bit interesting to follow what’s going on with the economy, what’s going on with various political things and by fun -- kind of disturbing sometimes, but I think there are a lot of interesting questions that are lurking there that are fun to think about.
Recorded on February 17, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen