All words one may not necessarily associate with a presentation on quantum physics. But Summit High School (SHS) students were treated to just such a talk as nationally renown physicist, author and accomplished public speaker David Kaiser recently visited the school to deliver a series of lectures.
With topics such as "Quantum Jitters on the Sky: The Big Bang, Cosmic Inflation, and the Latest Observations," "Testing Quantum Theory with the Cosmos," and "Einstein's Legacy: Studying Gravity in War and Peace," attendees may have thought they were in for a bit of a head scratcher, and felt more than a tad daunted by the impending subject matter as well.
Kaiser's obvious joy in explaining, and working through, the intricacies, complexities, and perplexities of the discipline, however shone through, as he mixed in humor and pop culture references along the way, drawing listeners in and making the content sound "cool."
Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor and Department Head of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and also a member of MIT's Department of Physics, came to SHS thanks to a connection with Fine Practical and Performing Arts Supervisor Thomas Maliszewski.
His books include Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics
(2005), which received the Pfizer Prize from the History of Science Society for best book in the field; and How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival
(2011), which was named "Book of the Year" by Physics World magazine and placed on top-book lists by the Financial Times
, the Philadelphia Inquirer
, New Scientist
magazine, and the Christian Science Monitor
A Fellow of the American Physical Society, Kaiser has also received MIT's highest honors for excellence in teaching. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Scientific American, and the Huffington Post, as well as on NOVA television programs, NPR, and the BBC. He is currently writing two books about gravity: a physics textbook, with his colleague Alan Guth, on gravitation and cosmology, and a history of research on Einstein's relativity over the twentieth century.
In "Quantum Jitters on the Sky: The Big Bang, Cosmic Inflation, and the Latest Observations," Kaiser discussed how physicists and astronomers have learned a lot about the earliest stages of our universe, and how it evolved nearly 14 billion years ago, around the time of the "Big Bang." Several lines of evidence suggest that our universe underwent a very brief period of rapid, violent expansion, doubling in size every trillion-trillion-trillionth of a second, in a period known as "cosmic inflation."
Presenting "Testing Quantum Theory with the Cosmos," he detailed one of the strangest and most fascinating features of quantum theory is known as "entanglement": particles that have been prepared in a special way seem to retain some sort of long-distance connection, even after they have been separated by an arbitrary distance. Tickle one particle -- by measuring one of its properties -- and its twin should instantly be affected, whether they are across a room or across the galaxy.
In his final talk, "Einstein's Legacy: Studying Gravity in War and Peace," Kaiser spoke about the popular image that persists of Albert Einstein as a loner, someone who avoided the hustle and bustle of everyday life in favor of quiet contemplation. Yet Einstein was deeply engaged with politics throughout his life; indeed, he was so active politically that the U.S. government kept him under surveillance for decades, compiling a 2000-page secret file on his political activities.
His most enduring scientific legacy, the general theory of relativity -- physicists' reigning explanation for gravity and the basis for nearly all our thinking about the cosmos -- has likewise been cast as an austere temple standing aloof from the all-too-human dramas of political history. .
Dry stuff? Hardly. Especially when the "messenger" sums up one of his presentations with the words, "Space time is wiggly, and matter is jiggly."