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Richard Panek + Lee Smolin

Talk about Nothing

Wednesday, January 19, 2011
7:00 PM–8:30 PM

The science writer Richard Panek celebrates the launch of his new book The Four-percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality with theoretical physicist Lee Smolin, who cofounded the loop quantam gravity approach.
In recent decades, scientists have discovered that everything we’ve always thought was the universe—you, me, Earth, stars, galaxies, space—is only four percent of what’s actually out there. The rest is what astronomers call “dark”: 73 percent dark energy, 23 percent dark matter. They are not black holes or deep space, but we can’t see these forms of energy and don’t know anything about them. How did scientists discover what they can’t see? How did they convince themselves and their colleagues that these discoveries are real? What are they doing to solve the mysteries? What are the inevitable consequences for physics in the immediate future and for centuries to come? These are the questions The Four-percent Universe sets out to answer. Panek’s fast-paced narrative, filled with original reporting and behind-the-scenes details, brings the epic story of the quest to bring light to the “dark” for the very first time.
After graduating from Harvard, Lee Smolin helped to found the Center for Gravitational Physics and Geometry at Penn State University. He also held visiting positions at various times at Cambridge and Oxford Universities and at SISSA and the Universities of Rome and Trento in Italy. He was a Visiting Professor at Imperial College from 1999 to 2001. In September of 2001 he moved to Canada to be a founding member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, where he has been ever since.

Lee’s main contributions to research are so far to the field of quantum gravity. He was, with Abhay Ashtekar and Carlo Rovelli,a founder of the approach known as loop quantum gravity, but he has contributed to other approaches including string theory and causal dynamical triangulations. He is also known for proposing the notion of the landscape of theories, based on his application of Darwinian methods to Cosmology. He has contributed also to thefoundations of quantum mechanics, elementary particle physics and theoretical biology. He also has a strong interest in philosophy and his three books, Life of the Cosmos, Three Roads to Quantum Gravity and The Trouble with Physics are in part philosophical explorations of issues raised by contemporary physics.
Richard Panek is the author of The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in Science Writing, he is also the author of The Invisible Century and Seeing and Believing. He has frequently written about science for the New York Times–where The 4% Universe began as an article in the Magazine–as well as for Discover, Smithsonian, Natural History, Esquire, and Outside, among other publications. He hopes that by combining the exploratory sensibility of journalism with the storytelling techniques of long-form narrative, he can illuminate and humanize science for nonscientists and scientists alike.