Lisa Randall: A greater design?
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: Where does anything come from? I don’t even know what that question means. It could be that there just are these extra dimensions. Where do three dimensions come from? You know it’s funny. I think when we do our research, I mean some people might be thinking about that, and maybe afterwards you sit back and reflect. But when you’re actually solving a problem, you say assume these basic ingredients and proceed from there. What happens? You don’t ask . . . I mean after we did our work and then went back with another collaborator, _____, and asked why do we see three dimensions? Cosmologically could it be that three dimensions are special? And then we thought about how the universe would evolve with branes. But we try to turn it into scientific questions, not sort of just philosophical like, “Why are things the way they are?” But could . . . what would be the connections between? So the thing . . . I mean so . . . I mean you could be kept up at night by a minus sign, but it has nothing to do with some mundane particle physics problem. It’s sort of the problems themselves that are compelling in some sense when you’re actually doing your research. How could these pieces fit together? As I say when I started doing research, this type of particle physics, I didn’t think I would be working in extra dimensions. I probably would have felt as skeptical as you. Like . . . like yeah okay, sure. You can do anything with extra dimensions. But it’s not true that you can do anything. You can do some things, and it’s interesting to see what are those new phenomena. People had worked on general relativity for years without realizing you could have this infinite extra dimension. So by approaching things from very specific particle physics problems, we actually have discovered implications that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. So it’s sort of a question of what are the connections among these . . . what are the implications of the equations that describe the gravitational field? What are the implications of particle physics in the scenario? So it’s trying to really see what the consequences would be. I’m not saying we know they exist. We don’t know they exist, but we wanna go in and test it. And I should say that, you know, I don’t know that this is the right answer to the hierarchy problem. But we are about to test experimentally what is happening at the scale – this scale that is about the massive Higgs particle. And when we do that, it could be this theory that we find. It could be other theories. But we wanna be ready. We wanna know what should they be looking for. And the only way to answer those questions is to think about what is the spectrum of possibilities. And I think this is a little bit hard for people to fathom that we’re working on all these theories. We don’t necessarily believe we know which one is right. But while you’re working on it, you just have to get into the mode and say, “Suppose the world is like this,” and try to figure it out. Recorded On: 11/2/07
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