Lisa Randall
Professor or Physics, Harvard University
01:46

Lisa Randall: The Risks of Scientific Innovation

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Some science is risky, but much of science is not, says Randall.

Lisa Randall

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.

Transcript

Lisa Randall: I’m a little bit hesitant to overstate the risk because some science is risk and some science is not. I do think that probably biological advances will entail ethical consider . . . issues. And I don’t mean that we shouldn’t be doing certain types of research. But in the end we should be able to evaluate. For example if we do understand genes, how much do we want to be able to engineer? I mean those . . . I don’t know that that’s a risk, but I think it’s important to be able . . . that there’s a systematic way of asking these questions and that they’re on the table. There probably are risks to the environment. There probably are risks to our food supply. And it’s not necessarily from science, but sort of how science is applied in sort of more agricultural and industrial sort of contexts. There probably are risks associated with antibiotic resistant bacteria. There are risks of that sort. But a lot of the risks, I think, have to do with how things are applied in general. And I think that has . . . I mean it’s not just that science research could be controlled, but perhaps industries using scientific analysis should be better controlled. For example, you know, bio engineered food – it’s not that it’s necessarily bad, but there should be some way of regulating it to see if it is bad or not. And right now it’s not . . . I mean so I think the risks are sort of that things are changing so fast that sort of regulation doesn’t necessarily keep up with it. So that’s probably more of the risks at this point. Recorded On: 11/2/07


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