Foundations of General Relativity

GR @ 100 - Andrew Strominger - November 5, 2015

Andrew Strominger
November 5, 2015

Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, a pillar of modern physics formulated 100 years ago, will be celebrated by the Institute for Advanced Study and Princeton University in a two-day conference, General Relativity at 100. The conference, which will feature ten colloquium-style talks by international experts on diverse aspects of general relativity and its fascinating history—from cosmology to quantum gravity, from black holes to neutron stars—will take place in Wolfensohn Hall on the Institute’s campus on November 5–6. The conference will also celebrate the seminal role of Princeton physicists, particularly John Wheeler and Bob Dicke and their students, in advancing an examination of general relativity.

“The general theory of relativity is based on profound and elegant principles that connect the physics of motion and mass to the geometry of space and time,” stated Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director of the Institute and Leon Levy Professor. “With Einstein’s equations, even the universe itself became an object of study. Only now, after a century of calculations and observations, the full power of this theory has become visible, from black holes and gravitational lenses to the practical use of GPS devices.”

Einstein was one of the Institute’s first Faculty members, serving from 1933 until his death in 1955, and played a significant part in its early development. Einstein came to the United States to take up his appointment at the invitation of Abraham Flexner, the Institute’s Founding Director. Today, theorists at the Institute continue to interpret and test Einstein’s theory of general relativity, about which questions persist: What is the physics of black holes? Do space and time emerge from a more fundamental description? Why is the universe accelerating? How can general relativity be reconciled with quantum mechanics? What are the origins and the long-term fate of the universe?

The celebration will open on November 4 with a special performance of Light Falls: Space, Time, and an Obsession of Einstein, a dramatic portrayal of Einstein’s discovery of the general theory of relativity, at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium. Light Falls, written by Brian Greene, Member (1992-93) in the Institute’s School of Natural Sciences and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Columbia University, composed by Jeff Beal (“House of Cards”), designed by 59 Productions (“An American in Paris”) and directed by Scott Faris (“Walking with Dinosaurs”), is an original work weaving together dramatic portrayals, state-of-the-art animation and innovative projection techniques to trace Einstein’s electrifying journey toward one of the most beautiful ideas ever conceived.

The conference will close on November 6 with a recital for the Institute campus community by world-acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell and a screening of the new documentary Einstein’s Light by Nickolas Barris, Director’s Visitor (2013) at the Institute and founder of Imaginary Films. Einstein’s Light explores how scientific imagination and innovation advance knowledge, with Einstein and Dutch Nobel Laureate Hendrik Lorentz as models. The film examines Einstein’s discoveries as well as modern examples of scientific imagination and innovation, highlighting institutions such as the Institute and others around the world. Bruce Adolphe’s score reflects the power of music as a catalyst for Einstein’s scientific creativity and his deep connection to the music of Mozart and Bach. Joshua Bell’s performance at the Institute will mark the world premiere of the score set to the final visualization from the film.

Major support for the General Relativity at 100 conference and related events has been provided by Eric and Wendy Schmidt.