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ASU: Origins of the Universe

On April 6th, 2009, six Nobel prize winners discussed the origins of the Universe in Arizona. If you have 64 extra minutes, and/or if you liked a similar ASU discussion whether our Universe was unique, here I bring you a new one.



Baruch Blumberg got a medicine Nobel prize for a virus and he is an astrobiologist. Sheldon Glashow, David Gross, and Frank Wilczek are particle physicists who need no introduction. Wally Gilbert is a biochemist, Chemistry Nobel prize winner in 1980, founder of Biogen etc., capitalist, chairman of the Harvard Society of Fellows, and a photographic artist.

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Frank Wilczek and Sheldon Glashow have a small fight about supersymmetry around 26:00. Wilczek explained that "axions" were named after a detergent whose name Wilczek liked so much that he waited for an opportunity to name a particle after it. Glashow reveals that WIMP stands for "Women in Maths and Physics at Harvard" which may be an actual secret organization. :-)




Ira Flatow, the moderator, notices that science is not a subject where everyone agrees with everyone else, as a female listener once thought. David Gross explains that scientists disagree especially if Shelly is around, and a small string war of Gross and Glashow follows. :-)

A six-pack Joe from the audience asks where does the controversy about quantum mechanics stands. Frank Wilczek seems to be unaware what these people are thinking about, so he just says that QM is working perfectly. David Gross knows the psychology of anti-quantum zeal better: so he says that if something new is hiding beneath QM, it's probably even more unexplainable, not more simple! So give it up, six-pack Joe. ;-)

Is quantum mechanics reconciled with general relativity? This mission is mostly accomplished by string theory, Gross explains, and adds that Shelly Glashow is one of the forefathers of string theory that is continuously connected to the Standard Model. :-) A smiling Glashow vigorously agrees by turning his head left and right.

Another guy from the audience wants to modify relativity. He gets another no-go from Wilczek. Gross mentions MOND, gravitational collapses of wave functions. In fact, string theory is a modification of GR, too.
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Mather discusses the future of the Hubble and James Webb Telescopes, drawing an applause. After a woman asks a question, Mather says that the right role of science in the society is to follow the evidence, wherever it leads us: he sees it analogous to the courts. Blumberg says that science has application, including the unexpected ones. Purposeless research often has the most important applications in the future. Wilczek says that science, seeing things beneath the surface, is a key part of our culture.

Blumberg confirms that he thinks that water is needed for any life, according to his best knowledge. Wilczek doesn't seem to be constrained by H2O.

Another guy from the audience mentions the "black hole nonsense". The panel is kind of worried - what nonsense did he mean? ;-) It turned out he meant the LHC black hole catastrophe. Finally, he asked them to explain the Higgs boson. Glashow begins with it - he's unfortunately unable to avoid the standard physics jargon (except for "once upon a time, a long time ago"). :-) Gilbert thinks that the most important thing about seeing no Higgs is that they would be astounded.

Flatow gives his own explanation - that all of us get mass because of the Higgs. Gross protests, that most of Flatow's mass actually doesn't come from the Yukawa couplings with the Higgs but from the QCD stuff - the kinetic energy of massless gluons and light quarks - proudly discovered by Gross and Wilczek. ;-)

Glashow must have a replacement for QCD because he suddenly screams at Gross: No! ;-) Wilczek makes one good try, explaining the Higgs field as a medium whose presence simplifies the theories needed by us, the intelligent swimming fish, to describe the observations.

The following question is about the silicon life and the multiverse. Wilczek says a few elementary things about the latter. Gross suggests that causally disconnected regions, even if they "existed", should be considered unphysical. A criticism of the anthropic principle follows, together with a comment that it is still a possibility. Wilczek finds the anthropic principle disfavored by the fact that our Universe is mostly inhospitable and the early life was fragile. No silicon.

Another guy in the audience confuses dark matter and dark energy, an error immediately corrected by Gross. Gross explains that dark energy is a uniform property of the whole vacuum which is identical in all the reference frames - it can't clump etc., making the guy's bizarre black-hole-crunch speculations impossible.

A boy offered a confused collection of worries about the decaying LHC black holes and the decaying Universe which I didn't understand. Gross thinks that the LHC black hole alarm was good for the CERN, and discusses some calculations disproving the alarm.

Another question was about biosynthesis - Miller experiment with amino acids in a charged atmosphere etc. Wally Gilbert gives an answer, mapping the space of kinds of biological molecules. Are DNA/RNA ensymes? The big picture of biosynthesis looks plausible but a lot of uncertainty and incomplete pictures is here. End. Sorry for the Krauss at the end.

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