Lectures by Faculty

The Frontiers and Limits of Science

Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor
Institute for Advanced Study
October 17, 2012

Every day, at the Institute for Advanced Study and elsewhere, scientists and scholars are exploring the frontiers of knowledge, from the structure of the universe to the patterns of human thought. But what is the shortest path from A to B, if you do not know where B is? History teaches us that the first step is often a step sideways, away from the beaten path. Successful research is therefore an endless cycle of imagination and concentration, of playing and thinking. However, in a time that stimulates and rewards mostly short-term thinking and direct applications, the opportunity to freely explore such original ideas is getting more and more constrained. These limits to science devalue our society and hamper the long-term solutions of the world’s most pressing problems. A possible way out could be a broader understanding and appreciation of the fundamental values of the pursuit of knowledge, such as experimentation, imagination, reflection, criticism, and openness, in particular among younger generations.

The Inevitability of Physical Laws: Why the Higgs Has to Exist

Nima Arkani-Hamed
Institute for Advanced Study
October 26, 2012

Our present framework for physics is difficult to modify without destroying its marvelous, successful properties. This provides a strong check on theoretical speculations and helps guide us to a small set of candidates for new laws. In this talk, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Professor in the School of Natural Sciences, illustrates these ideas in action by explaining why theoretical physicists knew the Higgs boson had to exist long before it was discovered at the Large Hadron Collider in July 2012. While the discovery of the Higgs is a triumph for both experimental and theoretical physics, its existence opens up a set of profound conceptual paradoxes, whose resolution is likely to involve radical new ideas. The talk concludes with a description of possible avenues of attack on these mysteries, and what we might learn from the LHC in this decade.

The Symmetry and Simplicity of the Laws of Nature and the Higgs Boson

Juan Maldacena
Institute for Advanced Study
October 3, 2012

In this lecture, Juan Maldacena, Professor in the School of Natural Sciences, describes the theoretical ideas, developed in the 1960s and '70s, that led to the prediction of the Higgs boson, the particle that appears to have been discovered over the summer in 2012. The forces of nature are based on beautiful symmetries. Maldacena explains why the Higgs mechanism is necessary to avoid some of the naive consequences of these symmetries and to explain various features of elementary particles.