Andrew E. Strominger (Department of Physics)
Freshman Seminar 21V 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment: Limited to 12
The quest to understand the fundamental laws of nature has been ongoing for centuries. This seminar will assess the current status of this quest. In the first five weeks we will cover the basic pillars of our understanding: Einstein’s theory of general relativity, quantum mechanics and the Standard Model of particle physics. We will then examine the inadequacies and inconsistencies in our current picture, including for example the problem of quantum gravity, the lack of a unified theory of forces, Dirac’s large numbers problem, the cosmological constant problem, Hawking’s black hole information paradox, and the absence of a theory for the origin of the universe. Attempts to address these issues and move beyond our current understanding involve a network of intertwined investigations in string theory, M theory, inflation and non-abelian gauge theories and have drawn inspiration from the study of black holes and developments in modern mathematics. These forays beyond the edge of our current knowledge will be reviewed and assessed. The format of the seminar will be discussion of weekly reading assignments, and a final paper.
Prerequisites: High school level calculus and physics. Non-scientists are welcome.