Lisa Randall: Climate Change Awareness
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: Well I think climate change really is an important issue. I don’t think people . . . I think people are aware of it as an issue. I don’t think people realize just how significant it is. I mean our . . . And you know we don’t know. The science is indefinite. But there’s such a big risk that the planet as we know it can be altered in ways that we haven’t anticipated. And even if it’s just, you know, a question of it being, you know, a few degrees hotter . . . I mean even if it’s not some major economic thing . . . if it’s not . . . but just the idea that the world could be different, that glaciers can melt, I just don’t like that. But of course there are much broader implications which are possible that can seriously affect the planet. And I think just in general, our need for energy is also a dangerous . . . has dangerous directions; not just in terms of climate change, but in terms of all the political implications that it has, economic implications. So I think . . . And I don’t think we make that connection as much as we should. I mean to some extent it is, obviously. But the . . . Just the overriding need for more energy is really shaping so much of the way our planet is developing. And that’s just crazy, and we have to face that and figure out what to do about it. I mean that’s part of the problem, I think, is that everyone wants it to be someone else’s responsibility. And I think . . . And a lot of . . . And another problem is that, I think, people go from thinking it’s not a problem to thinking it’s a big problem but they have no chance of doing anything about it. So to turn it into something where individuals and companies and the government can actually make changes is a big, difficult problem; but I think it’s very important. I think just in general the ability to sort of plan for the future . . . Right now our political system and our business system is so concentrated on short term gains that it’s very hard . . . I mean it’s just not built into the system to worry about long term effects, and that’s very dangerous. I think that it’s very difficult in government. I think one of the things is that people . . . I mean and maybe I’m just being overly optimistic, but I do think that it would help to really distribute information in a more comprehensive way. You know even just . . . even for the war in Iraq, which is obviously a big issue – we haven’t talked about it – but it’s really hard to read the articles about Iraq because they sort of just say, “Okay, another few people were killed,” which is horrible. But there’s nothing we can do with that information. It’s sort of similar information every day. We know it’s bad but there’s nothing to grasp onto. There’s no storyline. There’s nothing. And you know I was talking to a reporter recently. I mean part of the problem is that people aren’t over there. They’re not doing in-depth reporting. They’re not doing things . . . But somehow at least we could understand perhaps why this war was different from other wars. Why aren’t people over there? Also who’s making money? I mean we sort of hear bits and piece of it, but why are people interested in perpetuating this war? So I think that if we could follow in a little bit more detail the economic forces that are driving a lot of the developments, that would really change the way people perceive things. I think in terms of climate change, there certainly are energy companies that really are very resistant to change, because it’s not necessarily in their interest – in their immediate interest. But I think if we could really get clear who is benefitting and who’s not benefitting in the long term and in the short term, it would be very helpful. Recorded On: 11/2/07
The government, Randall says, needs to think in the long term.
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