On Wednesday I went to one of our university’s anniversary lectures (celebrating its 35-year existence) by Professor Gerard ‘t Hooft. Professor ‘t Hooft is a theoretical physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics for “elucidating the quantum structure of electroweak interactions in physics”.

The lecture was very entertaining and interesting. He started with the physics of very small, elementary particles (and how much smaller we can go) which he later linked to the physics underlying very large objects and the universe. He used fractals (more specifically the Mandelbrot set) as an analogy for this idea (self-similarity under magnification).

There was a brief discussion of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, a particle accelerator that will likely result in the discovery of the Higgs boson. Here is an annotated picture of the LHC’s underground tunnel (with a perimeter of 26 km):

‘t Hooft also discussed string theory, which says that the building blocks of our universe are one-dimensional extended objects called strings, rather than zero-dimensional point particles. Here is String Ducky, a prize winning video explaining string theory in two minutes:

Finally, he discussed the uncertainties physicists are currently dealing with, including the fact that there might be many dimensions in our universe (as string theory indicates). A good explanation of this is given in this video (just ignore the spiritual ponderings in the subtitles):

Having recently read the book “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”, I recognized a few of the characters who featured in Feynman’s stories during Professor ‘t Hooft’s talk. One of them was Murray Gell-Man of whom I found an interesting talk on beauty and truth in physics at TED last year:

Since I have always been interested in physics, I really enjoyed this talk. It also made me very humble as I realized that our field of research is of an entirely different nature than theoretical physics

I am looking forward to another interesting anniversary talk by Ingrid Daubechies in May. She is a full professor at Princeton and is mainly known for her work on wavelets in image compression. Apparently, her roots lie in the town where I currently live.