Lisa Randall
Professor or Physics, Harvard University

Lisa Randall: What Can Science Learn from the Arts?

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Randall, a physicist, wishes that science was a part of pop culture. It's just as important to understand certain basic elements of science as it is to understand certain basic elements of literature or art, she argues. "That should be as fundamental to our way of thinking. One thing that science can probably learn from art is getting people excited about ideas."

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.


Lisa Randall: What can science learn from the arts? You know I really enjoy seeing art, and I even enjoy seeing some art that’s been motivated by science. But I do think they’re . . . In some ways you can learn about the nature of creativity what . . . what are the opportunities that people have that make them excel. But there really are differences in the arts and science. And one difference is that you really can have a wrong answer in science. And that’s very different, and it requires a certain kind of . . . a different type of training, a different type of evaluating what you’ve done. I mean in some sense you can have a wrong answer in art, but there’s always a more subjective element to it. There is like a number that tells you you’re wrong, you know, which is just undeniable. There’s no getting around it in science sometimes. So even if you have a good idea it could be wrong. But I think broadly speaking, I think one can learn about just how people enjoy culture. And I think it would be nice if science was more part of culture – that people thought it as important to understand certain basic elements of science as they do to understand certain basic elements of literature or art. That should be as fundamental to our way of thinking. I think one thing that science can probably learn from art is just ways of getting people excited about ideas. I mean I think there is a lot of artistic ideas that people really enjoy hearing about and think it’s important to be part of their . . . part of culture. And so given that it offers new ways of thinking about things, it would be nice for science to learn about that – sort of how to communicate better. Recorded On: 11/2/07


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