To physicist Brian Greene, science is humankind’s greatest voyage of discovery, and it would be tragic if the public missed the ride.
“If you look at the 21st century, at the opportunities we have, the challenges we face, from stem cell and climate change, from nanotechnology to space travel, to nuclear proliferation, to all manner of things that will have dramatic impact on life, they are all scientific,” said Greene, host of a critically acclaimed television series on the structure of the universe. “If you don’t have a public that is willing to engage with the scientific ideas, it’s nearly impossible to have informed decision-making,”
Utahns can learn about the journey of science on Wednesday when Greene keynotes the Natural History Museum of Utah’s popular lecture series “Nature of Things” in a talk titled “Why Science Matters.”
“We came up with idea of communicating science because that’s what we do. It’s themed with the opening of the new museum,” said Sarah George, who directs the University of Utah’s premier museum and oversaw its recent move into the new Rio Tinto Center.
The series will continue with talks by science and health writer Sharon Begley, and Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, hosts of public radio’s Radiolab.
Greene is a professor of mathematics and physics who has written best-selling science books and started the World Science Festival. He carries on the legacy exemplified by the late cosmologist Carl Sagan, bringing theoretical physics and string theory to general audiences with two acclaimed NOVA series, “The Elegant Universe” and “The Fabric of the Cosmos.” Scientists should consider public engagement part of their job description, according to Greene, whom the Washington Post dubbed “the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today.”
“It is critical that scientific inquiry emerge from behind the walls of the academy and between the covers of esoteric journals,” said Greene, whose research explores string theory. “As a community, scientists have realized the future of our undertaking requires a public that understands how important it is.”
The reason for understanding fundamental physics isn’t much different than why millions peer deeply into Leonardo’s Mona Lisa or listen with rapt attention to Beethoven’s symphonies.
“It so enriches your life,” Greene said. But physics goes further than great art in that it has given us the integrated circuits and other advances that made modern life possible.
Without quantum physics we wouldn’t have cellphones, MRIs, laptops or myriad other devices that drive more than a third of the nation’s GDP, not to mention prolonging our lives and keeping us connected.
“In the long run, science that allows us to understand nature allows us to manipulate it,” Greene said.
‘Nature of Things’
The Natural History Museum of Utah’s acclaimed lecture series’ keynote lecture at Kingsbury Hall features physicist Brian Greene.
When • Tonight at 7 p.m.
Where • Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle, University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $10, at www.nhmu.utah.edu/nature; Note: Lectures are broadcast on KCPW FM 88.3 and 105.3.
March 22, 7 p.m. • Science journalist Sharon Begley, at the Main Library, 200 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City
April 3, 7 p.m. • Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, hosts of NPR’s Radiolab, at the U.’s Rio Tinto Center, 301 Wakara Way, U. campus, Salt Lake City