A New Yorker makes the leap from the finite to the theoretical.
Lisa Randall: Lisa Randall. Professor of Physics at Harvard University. And I’m also the author of “Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions”. That’s always a complicated question. The first part’s easy. I’m from Fresh Meadows, New York. It’s a part of Queens – sort of on the outer edge of Queens towards Long Island. And how does it influence who I am today? Well I think growing up in New York can’t help but influence who you are. Even though I was in Queens, I went to high school in Manhattan. But also I was subject to the ____________ of being in New York. I was joking with a friend recently. I think my first day of school didn’t exist because it was at the time of the teacher’s strike. So I think that was characteristic of sort of a sense of uncertainty that existed around that time. So I think the fact that it was a bit of a bizarre educational system in the beginning probably influenced me; but also the fact that it’s an intense community where there’s lots of bright people around. For me, I think going to Stuyvesant was just nice to get away from the more insular area of Queens that I was in. And I think basically having . . . And we did have some good teachers. And not everyone, but some of them were good. And I think it definitely just influenced how seriously I took academics. You know I just always liked school, so I looked reading. I liked math. It wasn’t as much science. I think I liked math. I remember liking math more than . . . The science we learned was a little bit diluted. In third grade we dug up an ant hill and just looked at it. You know that was . . . that was counted as science. So it wasn’t really all that technical. But I think I liked just . . . I liked math. I liked the fact that it had answers. You know you didn’t necessarily need a great teacher. You could still learn the math, which was nice. But I . . . but I was a big reader too, so I just liked all that when I was a kid. Well you know it doesn’t happen at once I think. You sort of go . . . I mean it’s funny. You’re going into science thinking that you’ll have some impact that’s sort of more permanent maybe – that you’ll find some truth. And then you realize that truths get overturned, and it’s not so easy. And it’s not so obvious what will be there. But I think the fact that you can work things out, that you can test them, there’s something very reassuring about that. It’s not . . . it isn’t just opinion at the end of the day. For a while it is opinion until it’s tested. But at the end of the day it’s . . . it’s . . . it’s not opinion; or at least we’d like to believe that. And I think it’s true, and I think it’s been well-tested in many aspects of what it’s predicted. So there is still that . . . Even though what . . . what doing science is about is sort of answering questions you don’t know the answer to, at the end of the day you sort of have this overriding belief that some things will be known. Well I mean in a broad sense we’re trying to understand . . . I do theoretical particle physics, first of all. And so we’re trying to understand the substructure of matter. That is to say we’re trying to understand what are matter’s most basic elements. How do they interact? We’re also . . . The kind of work I do also interfaces with cosmology at times – understanding what’s in the universe; how it’s involved; how do you explain the properties of what we’ve observed there as well. So a lot of what we’re doing is trying to extend beyond what we know. There’s something called the standard model particle physics, and it tells us about particles called “quirks”, like those inside the proton neutron; particles called “leptons”, which are like an electron; and it tells us the four forces that we know about. And we’re trying to get beyond that. We’re trying to understand questions like, “What are masses? Why are they what they are? How are those masses related? Why are they related in the way they are? Are the forces related in some way? Where are they unified?” Recorded On: 11/2/07