Brian Greene, Ph.D., the popular theoretical physicist known for his entertaining explanations of cutting-edge scientific concepts, enlightened the crowd at NSU with his talk, “Explaining the Elegant Universe,” on Nov. 14. The event was hosted by the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences Division of Math, Science, and Technology, as part of the college’s Distinguished Speakers Series.
The evening keynote focused on the scientific topics of general relativity, quantum mechanics, and string theory. The relation between these subjects is also covered in Greene’s bestselling book, The Elegant Universe.
Greene began his talk with Sir Isaac Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation, the idea that an object pulls on another based on the objects’ mass and the distance between said objects. Newton’s law held up for about 300 years, until the early 1900s, when Albert Einstein “came on the scene … asking [what] a five-year-old would ask: How does gravity work?” Greene said.
After a 10-year quest for answers, Einstein introduced his own General Theory of Relativity. Greene illustrated the theory by asking the audience to envision a giant rubber sheet stretched out. Roll a marble across the sheet, and it should glide in a straight trajectory. But, place a bowling ball on the sheet, and the marble rolls in a curved trajectory created by the heavy ball’s pull. In the universe, the sun is the bowling ball and Earth is the marble, Greene said. In other words, Einstein believed gravity is created by a series of “warps and curves” in space.
While Einstein’s theory appears solid on the surface, Greene said it conflicts with quantum mechanics, which takes a closer look at the universe—about 100 billion times closer.
“That’s so small, you might wonder—in the privacy of your own brain—who cares?” Greene admitted to the audience. “But physics is about is finding truth; and if your theory breaks down at all, it can’t be a truth.”
Like quantum mechanics, string theories examine the smallest particles in the universe. String theorists like Greene posit that string-like filaments of vibrating energy are actually responsible for producing particles. String theorists consider this “string” to be the unifying entity from which all particles of matter originate. As Greene cautioned, though, string theory is still “wholly speculative” and does not provide a definite answer on how the universe began.
Greene said he and his fellow string theorists are excited for the future and will continue to delve deeper to see what the science may reveal.
Following his presentation, Greene led a Q&A session with audience members. The talk concluded with a book signing and a meet and greet. Prior to the evening’s events, Greene met with undergraduate students from the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences in a special seminar.
Visit the college’s Photo Gallery to view pictures from Greene’s presentation.
The college will welcome forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, Ph.D., to campus on Feb. 6, as part of the Distinguished Speakers Series. Reichs has used her work experience to inform her popular, forensic fictional thrillers. The bestselling author is also a producer of the television series Bones, which is based on her work and her writings.
Free tickets are required for admission and will be available beginning Friday, Jan. 18, for all Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences students, faculty, and staff members. On Monday, Jan. 28, tickets will be available for NSU students, faculty, and staff members.
Pick up tickets from the college’s Office of the Dean, located in the Mailman-Hollywood Building, second floor. Limit two per person with a valid NSU ID. For more information, call (954) 262-8236.