2007 Kavli Directors Symposium: Theoretical Astrophysics

A Video Presentation



Theoretical Physics Panelists

Roger Blandford - Director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Physics and Cosmology at Stanford University

George Efstathiou - Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge

David Gross - Director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara

Yue-Liang Wu - Director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics China at the Chinese Academy of Sciences

MODERATOR: Alan Alda - actor, producer, filmmaker and author


Panel Overview

Theoretical astrophysics examines how physicists seek to understand the interactions of energy and matter that produced the cosmos. In the final panel discussion of the September 2007 Symposium, scientists from four Kavli institutes note that issues raised early in the 20th century by Einstein and quantum theorists are very much alive. In fact, they are converging in the study of matter in high-energy states such as the early universe.

Models that work well for particle physics where the force of gravity is weak – the world as we know it now – break down in the primordial conditions where matter is densely packed and gravity is as strong as the other known forces (electromagnetic, strong and weak). What new physics will explain this realm? Will all the forces be found to come from a single force, as Einstein thought? Will Einstein’s theory of general relativity harmonize with quantum mechanics? Will string theory show the way to a “theory of everything?” Then there is the question of the so-called “anthropic principle” -- would human life have been possible if the balance of forces in the universe had been only slightly different?

Encompassing all these questions is the problem of how to tell if any answers are right. It is impossible to recreate anything close to the Big Bang (though high-energy environments can be produced by particle accelerators). Still, as panelist Roger Blandford points out, the cosmos does give us observable high-energy events such as the collapse of black holes. With the right tools, it may be possible to resolve the issues (such as that of the “cosmological constant” to account for dark energy) that remain from the work of Einstein and his contemporaries.

2007 Symposium Overview

Overview of the September, 2007 Symposium: Panel Discussions on Observational Astrophysics, Theoretical Astrophysics, Nanoscience and Neuroscience

How did the universe begin? What is matter really like in its smallest form? What makes us truly human?Such are the profound questions that face us at the limits of our scientific knowledge. A distinguished group of scientists – directors of the 15 Kavli Institutes – met in Santa Barbara, Calif., in September 2007 to share their insights on the great remaining scientific mysteries and humankind’s progress toward solving them.

The day-long symposium was a first for the Foundation. Never before had all the Institute directors been together in one place. It was a special event for the scientists, too, who were encouraged to ignore the narrow focus and formalities of most research symposia. Here they could – and did – talk not just about the latest research but also about the future of their science. As Kavli Foundation President David Auston explained, they were asked “to look ahead … and not only to look ahead and be prospective, but also to be speculative and provocative.

The symposium consisted of four panel discussions covering neuroscience, nanoscience, observational astrophysics and theoretical astrophysics. Moderating each discussion was actor, producer, filmmaker and author Alan Alda, whose interest in -- and advocacy for -- science has earned him the Public Service Award of the National Science Board.