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"And at first you're not so worried. It's just Geneva."

March 5, 2009

Zoe McLaughlin ’11

Yesterday morning, I checked my e-mail and realized I had way too much to do that day. Wednesday nights are always busy for me--I have my Indian violin lessons, and then a CSA meeting, and then I have to finish all the work I haven't gotten done that day. This week, my lesson got cancelled, so I was looking forward to a quiet evening, spiced up with a sitar concert that I had wanted to go to since I first saw the posters.

The e-mail from the chemistry department (one of the perks of declaring a biochem major, along with a wallet-sized periodic table) reminded me that Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe, was giving a talk that evening, most unfortunately at the same time as the sitar concert. I was going to have to make a decision. Ultimately, I went to see Brian Greene, partially because his talk was free and the concert wasn't, and partially because I get to hear a sitar every week and I don't get to hear a physicist talk about string theory every week.

Brian Greene's talk did not start out with string theory. He began with Newton, explaining Newton's ideas of time and space and the problems his contemporaries had with them. (You can't have just nothing and define it as something.) He then moved on to Einstein and how Einstein re-explained and changed Newton's ideas. Most interestingly, at least for me, Einstein theorized that objects bend the space around them, and this is what causes gravity.

He then moved on to briefly talk about string theory. I will say this right now: I think string theory and its implications are completely fascinating. String theory is right at the edge of our understanding of physics. It's essentially way cool. Brian Greene explained where we are now and what that might mean. He had several good visuals that helped me make sense of things like the fact that string theory suggests ten dimensions exist, even though we only see three.

I'll admit that right now I'm still skeptical. String theory is, of course, only a hypothesis right now. I was happy to see that Brian Greene addressed this, even talking briefly about other hypotheses that are currently being explored.

Finally, he talked about the possibility of the Large Hadron Collider destroying the Earth. He did say that there is a small chance that it will create a micro black hole that will gobble up Geneva and then the rest of the world. He then added that the chance of that happening is probably worse than the chance of a dragon appearing in the sky and eating the Earth.

Good to know.


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