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Steven Weinberg - Four Way Interview

Steven Weinberg was educated at Cornell, Copenhagen, and Princeton, and taught at Columbia, Berkeley, M.I.T., and Harvard. In 1982 he moved to The University of Texas at Austin and founded its Theory Group. At Texas he holds the Josey Regental Chair of Science and is a member of the Physics and Astronomy Departments. His research has spanned a broad range of topics in quantum field theory, elementary particle physics, and cosmology, and has received numerous awards, including the Nobel Prize in Physics. His latest book is To Explain the World.

Why science?

I have known that I wanted to be a theoretical physicist since I was sixteen  It was irresistible to me to think that, by stewing over what is known experimentally in the light of present theories, and noodling around with equations, someone could come up with a new theory that turned out to make successful predictions about the real world.  That earlier successful theories like quantum mechanics and relativity were esoteric and counter-intuitive and used fancy mathematics only added to the challenge.

Why this book?

A while ago I decided that I needed to learn more about an earlier era of the history of science, when the goals and standards of physics and astronomy had not yet taken their present shape.  I became impressed with the many differences between the mentality of scientists before the seventeenth century and our own.  It was terribly difficult for them to learn what sort of thing can be learned about the world, and how to learn it.  I tried in this book to give the reader an idea of hard it has been to come to anything like modern science.

What’s next?

Cambridge University Press and I are nursing the second edition of my graduate-level treatise, “Lectures on Quantum Mechanics,” through to publication later this year.  I have added a lot of new material, and sharpened the arguments that lead to a controversial conclusion, that at present there is no really satisfactory interpretation of quantum mechanics.

What’s exciting you at the moment?

There are several experimental facilities that are now coming on line, and that we hope will make discoveries of fundamental importance.  One is the improved Large Hadron Collider, which is starting up again soon at higher energy, and may be able to discover signs of supersymmetry, and/or the dark matter particles that astronomers tell us make up 5/6 of the matter of the universe.  Another instrument is the Advanced Laser Interferometric Gravitational Wave Observatory, which will be completed soon and will have a good chance of observing gravitational waves produced by pairs of neutron stars as they coalesce.  That’s just two examples.

Photograph (c) Matt Valentine - reproduced with permission (Penguin Books)

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