World-renowned scientist to explain the ‘elegant universe’

Jennifer Nacin

The secrets of the universe may be within ISU students’ reach this Wednesday at the Memorial Union.

Brian Greene, world renowned scientist for his research in superstring theory and professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, will be giving a lecture entitled “Explaining the Elegant Universe” at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union.

Pat Miller, program manager for the committee on lectures, said having a scientist of Greene’s caliber on campus to share his knowledge is both rare and extraordinary.

“We’ve been trying to bring him for several years, and we’re very delighted that he can be here this fall,” Miller said. “Anytime we have the opportunity to bring a brilliant communicator and a cutting-edge scientist, that’s what being at a university is all about — the opportunity to interact with great minds.”

Miller said not only is Greene respected in his discipline nationally and internationally, but he also has the gift of eloquently and comprehensively communicating a complex theory such as string theory to the general population.

Steven Kawaler, professor of physics and astronomy, said there are many who believe Greene to be the Albert Einstein of our age. He said Greene’s research may well be the beginning of a revolution in science.

“He’s working in a field and studying something that is way out there, but it may be our best bet for understanding what Einstein mainly worked for, which was the complete unification of all forces in the universe,” Kawaler said.

Craig Ogilvie, associate professor of physics and astronomy, said the basic concept of string theory that Greene is studying is the hypothesis that all matter and forces in the universe are unified. According to string theory, fundamental building blocks of matter, such as quarks and electrons, are actually vibrating strings. Ogilvie said the theory also proposes that more than three spatial dimensions exist in the universe where these vibrating strings may exist.

“Just imagine that we got evidence that we have 11 dimensions instead of three,” Ogilvie said. “Our view of the universe would completely change, and that’s what’s exciting.”

Ogilvie said if these vibrating strings of particles do exist in other dimensions that are presently unknown, and scientists are able to perform an experiment proving this, scientists may be able to explain why particle properties and the gravitational constant of the universe are the way they are.

“We have a pretty good fundamental understanding of how particles interact with each other and the fundamental forces in our world,” Ogilvie said. “The big gap in our understanding is that we don’t really know why some particles have the properties they have. String theory provides one possible answer to why an electron has the mass that it has or why gravity has the amount of force that it does.”

Kawaler said it will take Greene and other scientists many years before a sound experiment can be conducted.

“What he and others are desperate for is searching for some observational way to test a prediction that only his theory can produce,” Kawaler said.

Greene is the author of the national bestseller “The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory” and the New York Times bestseller “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality.” He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard and his doctorate in 1987 from Oxford University.