Skip to comments.Prof Ventures Into New Dimension [Lisa Randall alert!]
Posted on 11/28/2005 11:58:35 AM PST by PatrickHenry
Lisa Randall has become a star in the rarefied world of high-energy physics, and her theory about a fifth dimension has caught the imagination of the general public too.
That doesnt mean she still isnt shy and a little nervous about all the hoopla.
I really like that my work is getting more people interested in science, says the 43-year old Harvard physicist. And while it can get a little nerve-wracking dealing with all the attention, I really enjoy speaking to the public and answering questions.
Randall seems constantly in motion.
She seldom sits still, and says her mind brims with ideas and what mind-boggling ones they are.
Her theory of a fifth, unseen dimension that affects the three-dimensional world we inhabit (The fourth dimension is time.) may well turn our conception of the universe on its head.
Randalls equations apparently work, and if physical evidence from this dimension is found in tests on Switzerlands Large Hadron Collider a powerful machine that crashes together and records the movement of the universes tiniest particles Randall is said to be a shoo-in for a Nobel Prize.
Now she has published a book called Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universes Hidden Dimensions
Written for the lay reader, Warped Passages is receiving wide acclaim.
It has led to public speaking engagements before big crowds at the Smithsonian and New Yorks Hayden Planetarium, and scads of newspaper, radio, TV and magazine interviews.
Tomorrow night Randall will give a free talk at Bostons Museum of Science.
I tried to have fun and be playful in the book while also introducing a lot of serious science, she says.
Randall, who lives in Cambridge, covers a lot of ground in Warped Passages from the theory of relativity, through quantum mechanics (explaining the nature of light) to string theory (that posits vibrating strings as the universes fundamental matter) right up to recent developments that include her own work.
It makes me happy when people say they feel a sense of accomplishment after reading it, says Randall, who spent three years writing the book while continuing her research and teaching.
There have been other theories of extra dimensions, but Randalls are unique. She thinks this new dimension could be infinite in size- not super-tiny and curled up, as others have proposed. The fifth dimension she theorizes occupies a separate flat brane, or membrane, parallel to the world we experience. What has excited physicists is that her theory will be testable when the new accelerator opens just two years from now.
Shes an outstanding, well-regarded theorist whos raised some interesting ideas about whats out there, says her former colleague and MIT physicist Gerome Friedman, who himself won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1990 for co-discovering elemental particles called quarks. If we see evidence of what shes proposed, it will be extraordinary. It will shake up everything.
The theory is an incredible achievement for the middle of three daughters of a Queens engineering-firm salesman.
A young math whiz, Randall tied for first place in the National Westinghouse Science Talent Search at the age of 17, earned undergraduate and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard and taught at Princeton and MIT before being named a full professor of theoretical physics at her alma mater in 2001. She entered a branch of science where 90 percent of the professors are male, and has emerged as one of the worlds leading particle physics thinkers.
It hasnt gone unnoticed that Randall continues to achieve at a time when Harvard President Larry Summers has been under fire for remarks he made earlier this year suggesting that innate differences in ability between men and women in math and science may help explain the lack of top-level females in the profession.
I was surprised by his remarks, Randall says. He made a generalization based on inadequate knowledge of the literature on the subject.
She adds that Summers who came to Harvard the same year she became a professor there has always been interested in her work and is reading her book now.
Randall, who served on a Women in Science and Engineering task force that seeks to improve the climate for women in science at Harvard, was the first tenured woman professor in Princetons physics department and was the first tenured woman theorist in science at both MIT and Harvard.
But despite her achievements, Randall says the women in science question is a sensitive issue for her. She sees herself as a physicist first, but also realizes that her growing prominence has made her a high-profile role model for women.
My primary reason for writing the book was to help the public better understand the complex science of particle physics, she says. But a side benefit was to show that there are women out there doing this. Ive had enthusiastic responses from both men and women.
Randall says her fifth-dimension insight came about while bouncing ideas off then-BU postdoctoral researcher and now Johns Hopkins professor Raman Sundrum on how to explain one of physics biggest conundrums: why gravity is so much weaker than the universes other forces. Gravity is so weak on our planets surface that a small magnet can hold something like a paper clip even as the gravity of the entire earth is pulling it down.
The equations she developed to solve the problem pointed to a geometrically warped fifth dimension we cant see, where gravity is a strong force transmitting graviton particles to our three-dimensional space. It isnt that far-fetched. After all, we cant see our fourth dimension, time, yet we clearly experience it.
The extra-dimension thing has really piqued peoples interest, says Randall. What makes me different as a scientist is that Im kind of imaginative. The ideas just happen.
the photo isn't flattering enough; need better pics!
bump for later
It's from her bio page: Lisa Randall, Professor of Physics, PhD 1987, Harvard University.
I feel better knowing there are great humanitarians like this around. Most people I know have a real hunger for a better understanding the complex world of particle physics.
Hey, I'm like that too! Ideas just keep happening.
Lisa ... I'm waiting for your freepmail ... waiting ...
Mr. Sulu, engage the tractor beam.
The most reasonable interpretation of the data isn't that women can't become great scientists. It's that men are somewhat more likely to become great scientists. Randall's success does not disprove Summer's thoughts.
If you listen to these feminists for long enough, one could think that if men outnumber women in a field, all of the following is true:
1. There's discrimination against women.
2. The women do a better job in the field.
3. The women are not recognized for their talent.
Actually, I think there's one field in which all of the following is true: women's fashion design. The gay men who dominate the field don't seem to like designing for real women's bodies. The women do a better job. But I digress.
But for theoretical physics, if anything, they probably encourage the few women who go into the field.
Tell me about it! In my area, the gravity has gotten so weak...well, you get the picture...
Wow, with those eyes, she could say almost anything to me, and I'd just agree...
Sorry...laughing too hard.
you pic s/b your pic
say your s/b saw your
Sure am glad I wasn't eating or drinking when I saw that.
Here's another cutie my cat told me about.
"She entered a branch of science where 90 percent of the professors are male, and has emerged as one of the worlds leading particle physics thinkers.
It hasnt gone unnoticed that Randall continues to achieve at a time when Harvard President Larry Summers has been under fire for remarks he made earlier this year suggesting that innate differences in ability between men and women in math and science may help explain the lack of top-level females in the profession."
Larry Summers was the prophet who could not go back to his own hometown. Aside from Lisa Randall's obvious brilliance, that in and of itself does not invalidate Summers' assertions.
I don't think that the AVERAGE male is smarter than the AVERAGE female is: I am convinced that the average for both is probably identical. Where I think the difference lies is in the distribution of intelligence in the sexes.
That is, there are more learning disabled boys in special ed than there are girls. Just as I think that there are more genius-quality males than females. So I think the two sexes are equal on the average, but different "on the two ends of the bell curve".
This is one smart gal.
Highly recommended reading. A technical background is a plus but not really necessary.
"The extra-dimension thing has really piqued peoples interest, says Randall. What makes me different as a scientist is that Im kind of imaginative. The ideas just happen.
- You know, this whole idea of gravity spilling over from a fifth, flat dimension got me thinking. My own theory is that most of the gravity in the universe is locked up in black holes and we only get to experience the little bit that "leaks" out and which collects around stars and planets in much the same way as iron filings collect around magnetic poles.
I don't know where these ideas of mine come from, they just happen.
I wonder what a guy would talk about while out on a first date........If it was me, I would probably start out with something witty like "Whats your sign?"
I've done that. Lots of stars on these reviews.
She is mischaracterizing his statement. He said we should remain open to the possibility that the differences in achievement in the physical sciences and mathematics between men and women may be due to genetic factors. Most of the firestorm following his remarks was generated by people whose minds are firmly closed to evidence.
It would be difficult to explain the disparity in representation among the sexes in top flight chess players to anything but genetics. Regardless of whether producing top flight chess players is a good thing, or indicative of desirable traits in the real world, the disparity is real.
Pardon me but, if you're old enough for gravity to be a factor, you might be too old : )
My guess is that that would be your last date.
There are some pretty heavy duty female chess players now. My guess is that it is genetics, but not because of raw brain power. It's hard to get women interested in a highly computational game of psychological and mental warfare.
Ya, she pretty easy on the eyes too
Lisa ... I'm still waiting for your freepmail ...
All the more reason to hope.
Good article, once again.
Not too many cranks musing on this thread, unfortunately. That always makes things so much more entertaining.
We usually attract a few who are ready to "prove" that Einstein was a fool. (The expression "Einstein was wrong" gets over 15,000 hits on Google.) Yet they seem strangely unwilling to mix it up with Lisa Randall. But some of us are willing -- even eager -- to tangle with her.
The word you're looking for is: pussgrapple.
I can tell you that a good theorist I know did tell me of another line of experimental inquiry that you didn't include - some quantum gravity theories predict that Newtonian gravity breaks down at shorter & potentially measurable distances (when I last heard, the inverse square nature of gravitation has "only" been verified down to a distance of about 0.1 mm, some hypotheses predict that this scale is where classical gravity may start to break down). As far as the Randall-Sundrum theory goes in particular, though, I have no idea, unfortunately.
That's more up my alley!
Lemme jump in, while we're waiting for the smart guys to compose their answers. The idea of these branes is that gravitons are traveling here from the other brane, where gravity is its "normal" (much stronger) self. I get the idea that when this happens, stuff from here must go to the other brane, so as to balance the cosmic books. These arrivals and departures should be, in principle, detectable. But the other brane is thought to be so close to ours (maybe one planck length, says Lisa) that the transit time is probably negligible. So if all we can detect is that everything balances, and there's no detectable moment when we've got a shortage on its way to being compensated, then we've got a null result. But I may have this all messed up. Let's wait for the experts.
She reminds me of both Lisa Welch (Miss September 1980) and Carina Persson (Miss August 1983).
This is familiar to me. Back when I was an accountant, I had a "plug" account where things that didn't balance would disappear. OH MY GOD! The Creator is a CPA...
parsy, the former zen accountant.