Meeting Dr. Gross
Yesterday was eventful for the students of PSG Public Schools as well as the others who attended a wonderful program organised by PSG College of Technology. As an aspiring theoretical physicist, I could never have had a better day! Renowned physicist, Nobel Laureate and Dirac Medalist who played a key role in the development of String Theory, Dr. David Jonathan Gross visited PSG College of Technology to give two lectures and to interact with the students. Here is the event log:
FROM QUARKS TO STRINGS, MY LIFE IN PHYSICS:
As the title says, this was a talk with a little bit of a personal touch. Dr. Gross started off by talking about his childhood. He spoke about the three books which inspired him at a very young age:
The Evolution of Physics — Albert Einstein
One, Two, Three…Infinity — George Gamow
The Expanding Universe — Arthur Stanley Eddington
Dr. Gross described Albert Einstein as the God Like figure he looked up to as a child. And then, Dr. Gross started talking about physics.
Dr. Gross’ strategy of introducing the public to current theories by talking about the history of such theories surely impressed me. I never thought a person so important would spend time talking about Rutherford’s gold foil experiment.
The particle physics session started off with a description of the experiment and Dr. Gross showed the scales to the public. He then moved on to the analogy of smashing two watches together to understand how the watches work to introduce particle accelerators!
He then explained about the constituents of protons and neutrons. We were shown an illustration of a vacuum filled with Gluon-Quark interactions. This led to a wonderful explanation of the strong force and quantum confinement. A brief introduction was given for Quantum Chromo Dynamics which was followed by an introduction to the standard model.
Dr. Gross also spoke about the Nobel Prize for a few minutes which inspired the audience. A brief introduction on Supersymmetry, Higher Dimensions and Superstrings were then given. This then finally led to him speaking about the need for a grand unified theory. A coupling constant graph was shown to indicate the importance of unifying gravity with the other forces and he explained how string theory is our best chance now.
The first lecture ended and Dr. Gross was asked to answer ten questions. Five (voted) were taken from the website and five from the audience. The moderator wasn’t wise enough to pick the wonderful questions we submitted and stuck to the basic ones. This meant that the good questions came from the website.
Three answers impressed me. (The answers are just what I remember. I’m not quoting him.)
- Do you agree with the statement: Math is the language of the universe.? (our question)
Dr. Gross: Yes. I also believe that Math is a property of the Universe and not an invention.
- Could you please describe Science in one word? (our question)
Dr. Gross: Hmm.. I would say it is an organised study.. A collection of facts and interpretation of such facts..
(Very interesting answer as it showed his character. Some people prefer fancy words. I’d say Science is Poetry at its finest. Dr. Gross chose to speak skeptically and truly as he reflected his thoughts. He showed that Science is not a child’s play!)
- Do you believe in God?
Dr. Gross: I prefer to answer questions that matter. I’m not interested in searching for a God or anything. I stay away from such things and I devote myself to understanding nature through science.
INTERACTION WITH SCHOOL STUDENTS:
Students were asked to ask Dr. Gross anything regarding Science. There were five questions asked. (I won’t be quoting him exactly)
- How do we stabilize a wormhole? (A question inspired by science fiction.)
Dr. Gross went on explaining what a wormhole is and ended with a question: “Did you watch Interstellar?”. He then offered his opinion on the movie. Dr. Gross loved the graphics portrayed in the movie and didn’t like the concept of ‘Travelling through a wormhole to a galaxy far away because of a drought’. A thought that is common among physicists regarding the movie.
- Your favorite collaboration?
Dr. Gross explained how every collaboration was fruitful and explained how scientists are different from other people as teamwork and collaboration is what builds science. He explained how being a physicist gets you friends and acquaintances from all over the world thus showing us how complicated the process is.
- Could you explain what Tensors are? They appear in the field equations.. (Unwanted question given the fact that Dr. Gross traveled all the way from California here to inspire people and share his thoughts and not to teach people and thus I would skip writing the answer.)
- I don’t understand Length Contraction predicted by Special Relativity. Could you please explain? (Again! Go home! Google!! Dr. Gross was generous and he answered patiently.)
- What are your thoughts on privatizing space organizations? (yup! I asked!)
Dr. Gross straight away said ‘Yes’ and explained how well Elon Musk is doing it with SpaceX and appreciated the idea of landing rockets. Dr. Gross also offered his opinions on the Mars missions explaining why it is a waste of money according to him. He belongs to the set of people who believe that one robot does the work of a hundred men. He obviously is right. Science needs to progress. We can’t compromise for publicity. It was interesting to know his opinion on that subject!
This was quite funny! We were politely asked to ‘Get out’ as people from there felt that we weren’t eligible in terms of knowledge to attend the second lecture! We then gathered the courage to go ask the organizer of the program. Dr. Gross was also standing there and he answered us. He let us attend the lecture and also took a picture with us!
THE ENDURING LEGACY OF ALBERT EINSTEIN:
This lecture was certainly a tribute to one of the greatest minds to have walked on this planet!
The lecture started off with an introduction to Special Relativity. A sense of spacetime was given to us as Dr. Gross explained how the constant nature of the speed of light caused time dilation and length contraction. The famous Minkowski diagram was then shown. Then, Dr. Gross explained the two issues with Special Relativity. One, it was irreconcilable with Newton’s view of spacetime. Two, it was not able to describe accelerating systems.
Dr. Gross then explained the equivalence principle with wonderful animations. This led to Einstein’s greatest work: The General Theory of Relativity!
Dr. Gross went straight to the field equations (without the cosmological constant) and described how effective the theory proved to be in explaining the perihelion of mercury. Dr. Gross also talked about Gravitational lensing and describe three legacies that came out:
- Dynamical Spacetime:
Dr. Gross spoke about Black Holes and their history. He showed Schwarzchild’s solution and then talked about Gamma ray bursts. This also led to Hawking Radiation which was mentioned along with quantum fluctuations.
- Physical Cosmology:
Dr. Gross described how GTR led to the development of a new field of study. He also spoke about the expansion of the universe and the Cosmological constant. This led to the famous Big Bang diagram which was wonderfully explained.
- Grand Unified Theory:
Dr. Gross explained how and why Einstein failed in achieving his dream — A single equation to describe everything in the Universe. Dr. Gross explained how the absence of knowledge on the nuclear forces didn’t let Einstein reach further. Dr. Gross then explained how the Standard Model proves to be the improvement. He then went on to explain how String Theory incorporates gravity and lets us explain the Universe better.
Dr. Gross then ended the lecture talking about Albert Einstein and his influence over the world.
Dr. Gross also gave us a few tips on having a great career. He told us that Perseverance, the ability to take a fall and Ambition always take us to new heights. It was truly inspiring and gave us a wonderful insight. I’m really lucky to have met such a wonderful person at this young age! This is a day I’ll never forget in my life.
Thanks to everyone who made this possible!
And thanks a ton Dr. Gross for inspiring us!
Keep looking up!