Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek breaks down 10 key physics principles in new book 'Fundamentals'

January 12, 2021

Frank Wilczek, theoretical physicist, Nobel Prize laureate and professor of physics at Arizona State University, has spent much of his career exploring complex concepts in physics, researching the physical world and making influential scientific contributions.

In his latest book, “Fundamentals,” he offers readers, both experts in the field of physics and those casually interested in science, a glimpse into 10 essential concepts that form our understanding of what the world is and how it works. Frank Wilczek, theoretical physicist, Nobel Prize laureate and professor of physics at Arizona State University. Download Full Image

“Friends, students and people who have attended my public lectures often asked me where they could learn what they would need to know in order to understand what’s going on at the frontiers of fundamental research in a genuine way, that gets beyond buzzwords,” Wilczek said. “I didn’t have a good answer, and after looking into it I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t one.”

He said his goal in writing “Fundamentals” was to create the answer to that kind of question. As the project evolved over the past four years, he came to realize that answering this question may involve philosophical or religious perspectives. This further inspired him to think about the questions of meaning and purpose that first interested him in the field of science.

Like many others, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Wilczek into isolation in mid-March. This break from his normal routines allowed him to take the time needed to finish “Fundamentals,” with most of the text that now appears in the book being written over an eight-week period last spring. 

The 10 principles presented in the book cover everything from concepts relating to ideas that form our understanding of the universe like time, space, matter and energy to the history of fundamental science. In addition, Wilczek touches upon what could be on the horizon of scientific discovery. Wilczek’s favorite section, although he said it’s difficult to choose just one, is the third to last chapter titled "There’s Plenty More to See."

"Our best fundamental understanding of the physical world reveals that our senses leave a lot on the table,” he said. “We ordinarily perceive only a very small fraction of what’s there and what’s going on. An exciting possibility is to open the doors of perception wider, using modern technology, to give us superpowers. Our new SciHub initiative at ASU is taking steps in that direction.”

In addition to the release of his latest book, Wilczek said he is eager about two projects he has in the works at ASU: one with Professor Nathan Newman, focusing on converting axions into tangible signals, and another with Associate Professor Maulik Parikh and Postdoctoral Research Associate George Zaharaide looking at gravitational waves.

Learn more about “Fundamentals” or purchase a copy.

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Study: Conflict between divorced parents can lead to mental health problems in children

January 12, 2021

Conflict between divorced or separated parents increases the risk of children developing physical and mental health problems.

A new study from the Arizona State University Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health (REACH) Institute has found that children experience fear of being abandoned when their divorced or separated parents engage in conflict. Worrying about being abandoned predicted future mental health problems in children. The work was published in Child Development on Jan. 12.  Karey O'Hara, assistant research professor of psychology. Photo by Robert Ewing. Download Full Image

“Conflict is a salient stressor for kids, and the link between exposure to interparental conflict and mental health problems in children is well established across all family types — married, cohabitating, separated and divorced,” said Karey O’Hara, a research assistant professor of psychology at ASU and first author on the paper.

“Conflict between divorced or separated parents predicted children experiencing fear that they would be abandoned by one or both parents. This feeling was associated with future mental health problems, especially for those who had strong relationships with their fathers.”

Based on studies including children from families with married or cohabitating parents, the researchers knew that children view interparental conflict as a threat, often wondering if their parents will get divorced. 

To understand how children with divorced or separated parents interpreted interparental conflict, the researchers surveyed families participating in the New Beginnings Program, asking 559 children (aged 9–18 years) about their exposure to conflict. The questions included topics like whether their parents fought in front of them, spoke poorly of the other parent or asked children to carry messages. Children exposed to interparental conflict were more likely to report worrying about being abandoned by one or both of their parents.

“When parents who are married or cohabitating engage in conflict, the child might worry about their parents separating,” O’Hara said. “But children whose parents are divorced or separated have already seen the dissolution of their family. The idea that they might be abandoned might be unlikely, but it is not illogical from their perspective.” 

The fear of abandonment was persistent: Exposure to parental conflict predicted fear of abandonment three months later. And, worrying about abandonment predicted mental health problems, as reported by the children themselves and their teachers, 10 months later.

Because quality parent-child relationships are known to buffer children against stress, the researchers expected children who had strong relationships with a parent to experience less fear of abandonment and mental health problems. But the team did not find a general buffering effect of parenting. 

“A strong father-child relationship came at a cost when interparental conflict was high,” O’Hara said. “Having a high quality parenting relationship is protective, but it is possible that quality parenting alone is not enough in the context of high levels of interparental conflict between divorced parents.” 

The goal of ASU’s REACH institute is to bring research promoting children’s well-being from the lab into practice, and the research team is currently working on designing an intervention to help children cope with parental conflict after divorce. 

C. Aubrey Rhodes, Sharlene Wolchik, Irwin Sandler and Jenn Yun-Tien, all of ASU’s REACH Institute, also contributed to the work. This study was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Mental Health and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Science writer, Psychology Department