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Town Hall Seattle: Science Series

Town Hall’s Science series is dedicated to understanding the world around us. Whether we’re hearing from a legendary physicist or a UW graduate student, the Science series explores math, biology, chemistry, the environment, and so much more.

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May 21, 2018

While recognizing that quantum mechanics “demands serious attention,” Albert Einstein in 1926 admonished that the theory “does not bring us closer to the secrets of the Old One.” Aware that “there are deep mysteries that Nature intends to keep for herself,” 94-year-old theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson has chronicled the stories of those who were engaged in solving some of the most challenging quandaries of twentieth-century physics. To offer us a rare glimpse into scientific history, Dyson came to our stage to share his life story through a series of autobiographical letters and recount many major advances in science that made the field what it is today.

Dyson met for a conversation with renowned speculative fiction author Neal Stephenson—and the pair were joined by moderator Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study. Dyson and Stephenson delved into Dyson’s letters to relatives, which rendered a historic account of modern science and its greatest players, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, and Hans Bethe. Dyson reflected on the horrors of World War II, the moral dilemmas of nuclear development, the challenges of the space program, and the considerable demands of raising six children. Join Dyson and Stephenson for a firsthand account of one of the greatest periods of scientific discovery of our modern age.

Professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, Freeman Dyson is an English-born American theoretical physicist and mathematician. His work unified the three versions of quantum electrodynamics invented by Feynman, Schwinger and Tomonaga, and he went on to work on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics, and biology. He is the author of numerous books including Disturbing the Universe, Weapons and Hope, Infinite in All Directions, and Origins of Life.

Neal Stephenson is the bestselling author of numerous works of speculative fiction, historical fiction, and science fiction. His work includes books such as Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, Anathem, The Diamond Age, and The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.. He has received multiple accolades for his books, including the 1996 Hugo Award for Best Novel (The Diamond Age), the Arthur C. Clarke Award (Quicksilver), and the 2009 Prometheus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (The System of the World).

Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study and Leon Levy Professor since July 2012, is a mathematical physicist who has made significant contributions to string theory and the advancement of science education. His research focuses on the interface between mathematics and particle physics. In addition to finding surprising and deep connections between matrix models, topological string theory, and supersymmetric quantum field theory, Dijkgraaf has developed precise formulas for the counting of bound states that explain the entropy of certain black holes. For his contributions to science, Dijkgraaf was awarded the Spinoza Prize, the highest scientific award in the Netherlands, in 2003.

Recorded live at Meydenbauer Center Theatre on Wednesday, May 9, 2018.