By Matin Durrani
What big question in physics keeps you awake at night?
That was the poser for a nine-strong panel of top physicists taking part in yesterday’s inaugural event of the Quantum to Cosmos 10th anniversary festival here at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.
Sitting in a row of directors’ chairs on the main stage in the institute’s auditorium, the panel gave a range of answers related to pretty fundamental physics — not surprising given their interests and those of the institute itself,
In a nutshell, here are their answers – and apologies in advance if I have glossed over any subtleties. The panel session was only meant to be a bit of fun, after all.
Sean Carroll, Caltech
Why are the laws of physics the way they are?
Katherine Freese, University of Michigan
What is the universe made of?
Leo Kadanoff, University of Chicago
How does complexity develop in the universe?
Lawrence Krauss, Arizona State University
Have we come to the limits of our knowledge?
David Tong, Cambridge University
How will we ever know if string theory is correct?
Neil Turok, Director, Perimeter Institute
What happened at the singularity of the Big Bang?
Andrew White, University of Queensland
What is life?
Anton Zeilinger, University of Vienna
How far are we along the road of scientific discovery?
As for the ninth member of the panel — Gino Segrè from the University of Pennslyvania — I wasn’t quite sure what his answer was. I quizzed him afterwards in the Perimeter Institute’s candle-lit “Black Hole Bistro”, where the panel and special guests, myself included, were fed by the institute’s catering staff with plates of crab cakes and bite-sized pizza slices.
I think Gino was most concerned about the world not having enough young physicists to answer all those big questions that keep the rest of the panel awake
Gino recently reviewed for Physics World a book on how Wolfgang Pauli’s dreams were analyzed by Carl Jung. That got me thinking — what would be really interesting would be to analyze the panel’s dreams after thinking all those big questions.
I just hope they’re not having nightmares.