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Lawrence Krauss: Beyond Physics

Lawrence Krauss: Beyond Physics

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Published by Douglas Page
Space has a new meaning.
Space has a new meaning.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Douglas Page on Jun 10, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Lawrence Krauss: Beyond Physics
Lawrence Krauss: Beyond Physics
Physicist Lawrence Krauss, the author of the popular The Physics of Star Trek and heir-apparent to Carl Sagan, believes the standard 1980s model of cosmology is dead. His replacement is perhaps thestrangest possibility imaginable.
  by Douglas Page, © 2000
Space has a new meaning.The accepted model of cosmology, which had heretofore assumed thatspace was actually empty - that Einstein’s cosmological constantwas indeed zero - has been superseded, thanks to Lawrence Krauss.In Krauss’ bizarre replacement the cosmological constant is non-zero, meaning the energy density of the universe today may bedominated by empty space.During the 1980s cosmologists developed what looked like abeautiful model for cosmology, based on fundamental ideas fromparticle physics which appeared to agree with the wealth ofemerging observational data.The news then was exciting. Central to the 1980s model was thenotion that the Universe is exactly "flat", in the sense that theratio between the density of matter in the Universe, which works toslow its present expansion down, and the current expansion rate,are exactly matched so that the Universe will expand forever,slowing down, but never quite stopping."Geometrically, this meant the curvature of space on large scalesis precisely zero," says Krauss, the Ambrose Swaney Professor ofPhysics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland."Now, a decade later, we are beginning to have overwhelmingevidence that there simply isn't enough matter in the Universe tomake this happen," he says.About four years ago, Krauss and colleague Michael Turner, theRauner Distinguished Service Professor and chair of the Departmentof Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, arguedthat even a stranger possibility was suggested by the data. Theyproposed that in fact the Universe was flat, but the missing extradensity was provided by the energy associated with empty space.The peculiar notion that empty space might govern the nature of anexpanding Universe was first proposed, in a different context, byAlbert Einstein in 1917, but he quickly discarded the idea when itbecame clear it wasn't necessary to reconcile observations andtheory at that time.
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Lawrence Krauss: Beyond Physics
Since then, the best value for the cosmological constant wasassumed to be zero, since no measurement indicated the contrary.Recent observations of the expansion rate of the Universe now lendmuch stronger support to the notion that it is not zero, and isprecisely in the range Krauss and Turner argued it should be on thebasis of other observations. Even a very small pressure can beimportant if it permeates the entire Universe."Explaining why empty space has energy, and why it should have anenergy that is comparable to the present energy density associatedwith matter in the Universe is currently well beyond ourunderstanding, which makes this one of the most interestingdevelopments in cosmology in the past 20 years," Krauss says.Krauss is drawn to interesting science like moons are drawn tomajor planets. It’s what makes him glow.
Krauss, who has a loquacious gift good for generating publicinterest in science, is not content merely continuing what Einsteinstarted. He’s intent now on resuming the work of the late CarlSagan.Krauss, already the author of five popular books, among them
ThePhysics of Star Trek
(Harper Perennial, 1996), and
Beyond Star Trek
(Basic Books, 1997), has a talent for amusing readers with livelydiscussions of theoretical physics. He does this by enshrouding themore arcane topics of physics in entertaining questions, addressingissues such as what happens when the transporter beams you off thebridge of the Starship Enterprise, what anti-matter is and whatstarships do with it, how a hologram differs from a holodeck, andexactly what gets warped at warp speed.Science fiction, Krauss has found, is useful in teaching physics tothose who might otherwise be uninterested. Tending more towardHawaiian shirts than academic tweed in his writing style, Kraussprovides new approaches for the unconversant to such topics ofpopular interest as the potential for the existence of lifeelsewhere in the Universe, the possibility of intergalactic spacetravel, the nature of the quantum universe and what it would takefor extrasensory perception to really exist.The books became bestsellers, interesting a broader audience thanthe Trekkie subculture.
Beyond Star Trek,
for example,
sold over120,000 copies in hardcover, a record for its publisher. Another,
Fear of Physics
(Basic Books, 1993), was printed in eight languagesand was the 1994 finalist for the American Physical Society'sScience Writing Award.The New York-born, Canada-raised Krauss is equally comfortablelecturing undergraduates on physics and astronomy, speaking at theYale Club, delivering the opening plenary lecture in French at thebiannual French Physical Society, addressing a room full ofKlingons or chatting on the tranquil couches of Good MorningAmerica. His campaign has taken him several times recently to
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Lawrence Krauss: Beyond Physics
Kansas, to counter the creationism movement by attempting to injectreason into the resurgent nescient zealotry there intent oncumbering the state’s public school system.All of which have helped establish the ebullient Krauss as the heir-apparent to Sagan’s crown of Popular Champion of Science.The kinetic Krauss, a fan of Plutarch, Portnoy, Chomsky, theBeatles, Sartre, Woody Allen, and the Marx Brothers, has a mindpossessed of equal parts eclectic, protean intelligence and crisp,playful wit. He’s fond of saying "I like to keep my mind open, butnot so open my brains fall out".His persistence and popularity recently earned him the 1999-2000Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award from theAmerican Association for the Advancement of Science, the world'slargest interdisciplinary science organization."Lawrence Krauss has become a much-needed successor to Carl Sagan,"says 1979 Nobel Laureate Sheldon Glashow, the Higgins Professor ofPhysics at Harvard University. "He’s an inspiration to ourscientifically-inclined youth, a gifted advocate of scientificliteracy for all citizens, a demystifier of science, and itsstaunch defender as a force for good."That the Universe is comprehensible at all continues to amazeKrauss, 45, who received his Ph.D. from MIT, and was a Fellow atHarvard before, first, joining the physics and astronomy faculty atYale, then Case Western Reserve."Who would have thought that we, a sentient species, living in aremote corner of a mediocre galaxy, would be able, by a series ofobservations made without having left our own solar system, touncover so many mysteries of creation?" he asks rhetorically. "Thatwe can predict with confidence the results of processes thatoccurred in the first second after the big bang, when the Universewas over 10 billion degrees in temperature, and that ourpredictions agree with observations, is remarkable."Krauss’ love of science started in his formative years, readingpopular books by and about scientists such as Einstein, Gamov andAsimov."It got me excited," says Krauss, whose parents, Fred and GeraldineKrauss, operated a gift shop. "Those books are one of the reasons Inow write popular books myself, hoping to excite young people."His mother, who wanted him to become a medical doctor, encouragedhis early interest in science, but unfortunately this gave him theimpression that doctors were scientists. "By the time I found outthey weren't, I was hooked on science," he says. "This is not tosay, however, that it was clear to me that I would choose a careerin science. I enjoyed history very much, for example, and worked ona history book as an undergraduate. But throughout I retained aninterest in fundamental questions about the universe. The notion ofunraveling the secrets of nature really turned me on."The same awe that drove Sagan now drives the garrulous Krauss, who
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