Leading professor Lisa Randall talks about the latest in physics at Vail Symposium | VailDaily.com

Leading professor Lisa Randall talks about the latest in physics at Vail Symposium

Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lisa Randall will explain how discoveries from the farthest reaches of the universe make sense of life here on Earth.
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  • What: Knocking on Heaven’s Door
  • Who: Lisa Randall, Frank B Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University
  • When: 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23
  • Where: Vail Interfaith Chapel
  • Tickets: $25; $10 for Eagle County teachers and Vail Resort employees and free for students

Thursday evening, one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, Lisa Randall, will discuss her research in dark matter, possible extra dimensions in space and the large hadron collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator used to test theoretical predictions in particle physics.

The bestselling author of “Warped Passages” and “Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World” will go into as much depth as possible in the 90-minute program, and answer as many questions from audience members as possible, about what might underlie the matter we see and how particles acquire their masses; why extra dimensions in space could have consequences and how they might explain what scientists are seeing; whether it’s possible that some component of dark matter itself could form a disk internal to the Milky Way; and what the consequences of that could be (one “crazy” consequence could involve triggering a comet strike, but, as Randall points out, “we don’t really know that,” so don’t add that to your list of current worldly stressors).

Her book, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” reviews the latest ideas in physics, with insights into the scientific future born from conversations with the likes of Nate Silver, David Chang and Scott Derrickson, as well as the workings and goals of the LHC, the largest and most expensive machine humans have every built (and, as it turns out, scientists may very likely need a higher energy machine than the LHC to move beyond theoretical exploration, she said).

“There are so many more possibilities underlying what we see,” Randall said, noting how we get stuck in a specific frame of mind because we’re accustomed to a standard framework, but “as we can probe deeper and more precisely, we learn more.”

Thursday’s talk will reveal how scientists continue to stretch beyond what they know and how it can lead to new ways of looking at the world.

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“All sorts of things are hard to see, yet they underlie what we know. The same is true in physics,” she said. “We have to be open that (one specific) theory may apply only to a certain range of perimeters. We want to be able to look at things from different perspectives. … There’s a lot we know about in this world, but we’re trying to get beyond what we know.”

Part of how Randall goes beyond current knowledge is by looking at inconsistencies.

“Anything that’s inconsistent could point to something radically new,” she said. “It’s a rich playing field. There could be a lot of things we don’t know about, (and if we discover more) it would just be a different landscape — literally.”

Even if you don’t completely understand things like the Higgs boson, a particle discovered in 2012 that’s still shrouded in some mystery, such as its underlying structure (which could led to a discovery of “something interesting like this extra dimension of space,” she said), Randall welcomes audiences to attend Thursday’s presentation in order to gain a better understanding of what’s going on in physics today. She also enjoys answering questions, so don’t be afraid to ask.

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