We Should Be Able to Think Like Scientists
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.
Question: How can scientists reach out to the public more effectively?
Lisa Randall: I think, I’ve obviously made the choice to speak to the public at some level and it’s in part because I enjoy writing and I enjoy being able to think creatively in different ways. I don’t think that any one particular scientist is obliged to do this, to speak to people. But I do think that as a community, if we are expecting resources, it’s very difficult material and I think it’s important that the information is out there.
When I wrote my book “Warped Passages,” I really had in mind an interested audience. I think it’s very easy to try to pander to a large audience – not easy, but – or to write technical things for your audience, but there’s sort of this in-between category of people where they’re really smart and really interested, but they just don’t know the physics yet, and I think it’s important that if they wanted to know what we’re doing and why it’s important and what the full implications are, then that information is out there in a way that they can access. And I just think, generally, it’s important to be able to communicate among different fields. We live in an era where science is important to the decisions we make. Is what happens at the LHC going to determine our policy toward it? Not necessarily, but being able to think like a scientist on some level we’ll be able to think about predictions and risk and probabilities. There’s some basic science training that might help people, but there’s also just curiosity about the world which everyone has and understanding why we care about these questions, what it is that we’re looking for and why it’s going to tell us these deep fundamental properties of the universe at both a small scale and the large scale. Scales that we can directly access just by looking, that we need technology for and saying what is it that we’re after? And I think those are – a lot of people want to know that, and it’s important that they have access to that information.
Recorded on February 17, 2010
Interviewed by Austin \r\nAllen
"We live in an era where science is important to the decisions we make," the Harvard physicist points out.
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