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Nobel laureate to discuss ‘space’ at BEYOND lecture


January 19, 2010

Quantum chromodynamics, axions and anyons fill physicist Frank Wilczek’s world. The Nobel laureate will bring that world to Arizona State University Jan. 21 for this year’s signature lecture presented by the BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. Titled “What is space?” Wilczek’s lecture will be presented at 7:30 p.m. in Neeb Hall on ASU’s Tempe campus.

“The BEYOND annual lecture challenges one of the world’s leading intellectuals to think beyond the confines of their specialism, and to offer new insights into science, philosophy or futurology,” says Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist, cosmologist and founding director of the BEYOND Center in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Wilczek is the Herman Feshbach professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He won the 2004 Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction, a prize shared with David J. Gross, a professor he met as a graduate student at Princeton, and H. David Politzer.

In the autobiography prepared for the 2004 Nobel Prize ceremonies and lecture, Wilczek noted his life-long love affair with “all kinds of puzzles, games and mysteries.” He wrote of childhood memories that ultimately led to his career in physics. The Queens, N.Y., native recalled growing up during the Cold War in the family’s city apartment filled with old radios, early-model televisions and textbooks that his father, who worked in electronics, used for night classes.

“Space exploration was a new and exciting prospect, nuclear war a frightening one; both were ever-present in newspapers, TV, and movies. At school, we had regular air raid drills. All this made a big impression on me. I got the idea that there was secret knowledge that, when mastered, would allow mind to control matter in seemingly magical ways,” he wrote in the autobiography that later was published in the book series “Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures.”

Wilczek studied mathematics at the University of Chicago and took a class in symmetry and group theory in physics with Peter Freund in his final term. When he moved to Princeton University as a graduate student in mathematics, he “kept a close eye on what was going on in physics” and started talking with Gross.

According to Wilczek, that’s when his “proper career as a physicist began.” After earning a doctorate from Princeton, Wilczek spent time on the faculty there and at the Institute for Advanced Study, as well as at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, now the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Wilczek, who is known, among other things, for the discovery of asymptotic freedom, the development of quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the invention of axions, and the exploration of new kinds of quantum statistics (anyons), also is an author of several books.

His latest book is “The Lightness of Being,” published in 2008. It was called “a lively, playful, and inventive tour de force” by Lawrence Krauss, an ASU professor, director the Origins Initiative and deputy director of the BEYOND Center.

Wilczek wrote “Longing for the Harmonies,” an exposition of modern physics that he wrote with his wife Betsy Devine. It was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He is the author of “Fantastic Realities,” a collection of his short pieces on wide-ranging topics, which concludes with a family’s-eye view of the Nobel adventures, drawn from his wife’s blog.

The BEYOND lecture is free and open to the public. Entry is on a first come, first served basis. C.A.R.T. services will be available. More information at 480.965.3240 or http://beyond.asu.edu. Online maps of the Tempe campus and parking facilities are at: www.asu.edu/map.

The BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science is a pioneering international research center established in 2006 at ASU. This “cosmic think tank” is specifically dedicated to confronting the big questions raised by advances in fundamental science, and facilitating new research initiatives that transcend traditional subject categories.