Sunday, October 25, 2009

Quantum to Cosmos

In what kind of town would you find a physics festival for the general public? Well, right here, of course! The Quantum to Cosmos festival was an eleven-day event featuring lectures, exhibits and films to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Perimeter Institute. In contrast to the academic conferences I attend now and then, it was a refreshing change to hear and talk about science with regular (dare I say "normal"?) people. With my usual busy weekday schedule, I didn't get to nearly as many events as I would have liked to attend. However, I did get to a few and plan to view some of the ones I missed on the Web.

Last Saturday, I attended Sean Carroll's talk, The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time, with my friend Sharon. Carroll is a dynamic speaker and I'm planning to check out his book, From Eternity to Here: the Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time.

The next day, Todd and I attended a panel discussion on Seeing Science Through Fiction that included Neal Stephenson, Lee Smolin, and Jaron Lanier. We were accompanied by our friend Mark who has convinced me that I should try Stephenson's novels. Certainly the themes for several of his books, mentioned in the course of the discussion, seem intriguing enough. Apparently, these are substantial tomes and I'll have to wait until I have a good chunk of time to devote to them. Maybe I'll start with Snow Crash.

Later in the week, I watched the documentary The Quantum Tamers: Revealing Our Weird and Wired Future. This was an entertaining and interesting film featuring interviews with a number of physicists around the world, but I'm not sure I understood quantum theory any better by the end of it. Incidentally, my first real exposure to this topic (outside of high-school physics class) was George Gamow's Thirty Years That Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory -- an entertaining and highly readable book, if one can say that about any book on quantum theory.

Today, on the final day of the festival, I took Kate to the Physica Phantastica Exhibit, open to adults and kids of all ages. This included a prototype of the next Mars Rover, a 3D movie about how the universe was formed (including colliding galaxies, no less!), and many other fascinating exhibits. Unfortunately, we missed seeing Mark, even though he'd spent much of the weekend volunteering there in the big tent sent up in the city square.

All in all, it was a terrific festival. Hopefully, we won't have to wait for the Perimeter Institute's 20th anniversary to enjoy another event like this one.

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