"The Theory Was Almost Smarter Than We Were"

Physics is a process of rigorous, exhausting intellectual inquiry, but it does offer occasional moments that are "kind of fun." For Harvard's Lisa Randall, one such moment came when she and a colleague worked out the possibility of an infinite extra dimension. "People had actually thought there were theorems that [said] you couldn't have" such a thing, she remembers, but there was no mistaking the implications of her equations: the impossible was possible.


In her second conversation with Big Think, Randall addresses various new developments that have taken place in particle physics since her previous interview in 2008, most notably the activation of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland. Touching on some of the largest unresolved mysteries in her field, she ticks off a list of questions to which the LHC may provide long-awaited answers, including: where do the masses of elementary particles come from? Why aren't those masses much bigger? And in a related problem, why is gravity so weak?

If you're wondering how Randall's work affects you, you might want to obtain your answer from a new opera for which Randall wrote the librettoand which aims, she says, "to communicate why we [scientists] care about exploration and discovery." Performed recently at the Barcelona Opera House (and coming soon to the Guggenheim Museum in New York), the performance also attempts to suggest the expanding reality of a fifth dimension and was, says Randall, a "very exciting" thing to be a part of.


Randall's first Big Think interview can be found on her expert page (click "Other Ideas" for past features).

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
Keep reading Show less

Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less