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Renowned cosmologist to champion origins initiative at ASU

May 20, 2008

Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist whose research is so broad that it covers science from the beginning of the universe to the end of the universe, will join Arizona State University in August to assume a leadership role in an emerging research and educational initiative on “origins.”

“Lawrence Krauss has been at the forefront of trying to unify particle physics and cosmology; of trying to use the universe itself as a laboratory to understand fundamental interactions, fundamental science and fundamental physics,” says ASU President Michael Crow. “His ability to address fundamental questions of life, of origins – Where did we come from? Why are we here? – and to seek an understanding of the long-term sustainability of life on Earth, will facilitate this new research and educational initiative at Arizona State University.”

Krauss will join ASU’s faculty as professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He will come to ASU after 15 years at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, 12 as chair of the physics department. Previously, Krauss was a member of the physics and astronomy departments at Yale University.

“What attracted me to ASU was not only the entrepreneurial spirit and wonderful new colleagues, but also the opportunity to build on existing novel interdisciplinary programs to create a broad new structure that looks at exciting open issues of origins, ranging from the origins of the universe to the galaxy and solar system and onward to human origins, to origins of consciousness and culture. We will look for new symbiotic relationships, build excitement across disciplines, and help convey the wonder of discovery to the public,” says Krauss.

“Arizona State University has a long tradition of studying the origins of human beings; we have great strengths in applied, use-inspired research, in the Biodesign Institute and across our colleges and schools,” says Crow. “We also have tremendous interest in fundamental research, and Dr. Krauss will help define for ASU a major, comprehensive initiative, to answer the complex questions of our time.

“It’s foolish for us to believe that all origins have already happened. On the eve of a set of very rapid changes in our world, the only kind of origins we can observe, can truly document, are the origins of the future,” says Crow. “ASU aims to be a global leader in this area. This new, far-reaching initiative will help us build strong links with many of our existing research centers, including the Institute of Human Origins and the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science.”

“Human beings have always been interested in the origins around them, whether of the universe, or of Earth,” says Professor Sander van der Leeuw, director of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. “Arizona State University has achieved an international reputation in human origins, with our Institute of Human Origins and our published research on the origins of modern humans and the origins of human uniqueness. While we already are addressing many questions of origins, there is a lot of space for a broader origins initiative at ASU, to address the origins story in a wider sense.”

Professor Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist, cosmologist and director of ASU’s Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science says: “ASU has scored a major success in recruiting Krauss. He will act as a magnet for other world-class researchers. Krauss’ appointment will greatly strengthen ASU's expertise in cosmology – the study of the origin, evolution and fate of the universe as a whole.”

“Cosmology and its related area, particle astrophysics, are probably among the most exciting experimental and theoretical parts of physics and perhaps all of science, right now,” says Krauss. “We’re opening new windows on the universe, and with that, our understanding of our place within it is dramatically changing.”

When he looks across ASU, Krauss sees many complementary aspects for a comprehensive origins initiative.

“There’s great strength in human origins, sustainability, Biodesign, astrophysics, geology, life sciences and astrobiology. In fact, the person in Cleveland who discovered Lucy and built the human origins program at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where I am currently a trustee, is of course, Don Johanson, who’s at ASU,” Krauss says.

“From a research perspective, it will be incredibly interesting to mesh everything from cosmology to culture and at the same time to think of new ways to teach undergraduates,” says Krauss. “We’ll use the unifying principles to teach as well, and to try to get students from humanities and science together and interested in courses from each other’s areas; to have students do a kind of origins major where there are humanities components and science components together as a preparation for a truly 21st century liberal arts education,” says Krauss.

“Lawrence Krauss’ research and approach to teaching transcends boundaries and fits squarely with the mission of the college to integrate and innovate across the disciplines of natural sciences, social sciences and humanities,” says Sid Bacon, dean of natural sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Origins Symposium

Krauss also envisions “a kind of unifying structure that would sponsor visitors and research workshops as well, and, therefore, enhance the research at the institution, making it an international magnet for talent, as well as provide an international outreach center to enhance public understanding of origins issues.”

To jump start the origins initiative at ASU, Krauss is organizing an origins symposium for April 5-7 with Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Craig Venter, and at least five Nobel laureates in different areas, including Frank Wilczek.

“This sort of symposium will help raise the intellectual energy in the region,” Krauss says. He plans to bring 100-150 “of the best people in the different areas, and have sessions on forefront puzzles, outstanding mysteries in each of these areas; and some of the most active young people as well as senior people, so key discoveries will likely be unveiled.”

In addition to the working symposium, “we’ll have a public symposium, which will, I think, be at a level that is probably unheard of in the world in terms of the quality and public profile of the speakers,” Krauss says.

He envisions other outreach efforts, including a workshop for science writers and journalists to interface with well-known scientists to talk about key origins issues “so that the journalists can better report on topics including evolution.”

Broad research

Krauss is the author of more than 250 scientific papers, usually working on several simultaneously.

“Right now, I’m looking at things as esoteric as gravitational waves from the very earliest moments of the big bang and concerns about whether our universe may be unstable; and trying to understand what probably is the biggest puzzle in science, and certainly in physics right now, something called dark energy,” says Krauss.

“The universe is dominated by the energy of empty space. There’s far more energy in empty space than in all the matter and all the galaxies and stars in the whole universe,” Krauss says. “And, we don’t have the slightest idea why it’s there.”

Another area of Krauss’ research – and, another big mystery – is dark matter. “Not to be confused with dark energy,” says Krauss. “Most of the mass in our galaxy doesn’t shine. We don’t know what it is. We think it’s some new type of elementary particle, which is distributed throughout the galaxies, and we’re trying to discover it by direct detection and indirect detection.”

Popular scientist and author

Scientific American has described Krauss as a public intellectual. In addition to writing the best-seller, “The Physics of Star Trek,” which has been translated into 13 languages, Krauss has written six other books, including “Fear of Physics,” “The Fifth Essence,” “Quintessence,” “Beyond Star Trek”, “Hiding in the Mirror,” and the science epic “Atom: An Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth ... and Beyond.”

“Krauss has the rare ability to grasp the key foundational concepts across a range of sciences, and to explain them in an attractive and comprehensible way. His world-famous book ‘The Physics of Star Trek’ well captures the fun-loving, daring and out-of-the box thinking of this renowned scientist,” says Davies, who brought Krauss to ASU last November for the Beyond Center’s inaugural sci-fi meets sci-fact lecture.

“One of the reasons I write books is that one of the things that got me interested in science when I was a kid was reading books by Einstein, George Gamov and people like that. I am returning the favor,” says Krauss. “I meet lots of kids who read ‘The Physics of Star Trek’ who are graduate students or beyond, now in physics, who say that book is what convinced them to become a scientist.

”I think it’s vitally important for scientists to not only do what we do, but explain why we do what we do. We owe it to the public in the first place, but also because these ideas are some of the most exciting ideas that humans have ever come up with. As a civilization, we owe it to the people, for cultural reasons,” he says.

Krauss also writes commentary for New Scientist magazine and is a commentator for National Public Radio programs “Marketplace” and “All Things Considered.” In the past, he has written popular science articles for Nature, Discover, Wired, Physics World, Wizard and the Yearbook of Science, as well as having been a regular contributor to the New York Times.

Krauss also has appeared on numerous radio and television programs in the U.S., Canada and Europe, including three BBC documentaries, National Public Radio’s “Science Friday,” Nova, the Discovery Channel, CBC’s “Quirks and Quarks,” National Geographic and the History Channel.

Science, Public Policy and Society

Krauss has helped lead a national effort to defend and promote science, from Washington to the classroom, beginning in 2002 with his own successful efforts in Ohio to keep evolution in that state’s science curriculum, and continuing through 2004, when he was among a group of 62 prominent scientists who wrote a public statement to congress and the president regarding scientific integrity in Washington. He has continued to speak out on these issues, and most recently has helped lead the call for a presidential debate on science and technology.

He also remains active on issues of science and security. In 2007, he participated in a transatlantic press event unveiling the new Doomsday Clock, and associated with that, he has been writing extensively on issues related to nuclear defense and nuclear proliferation, and the dangers associated with a new nuclear arms race. This year he joined 94 other prominent scientists in a public statement calling on the United States to combat proliferation and begin unilateral reductions in our nuclear weapons stockpile.

Liner notes

Krauss was born in New York city and grew up in Toronto. He received undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics from Carleton University in Ottawa, and a doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At Case Western since 1993, Krauss is the Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics and a professor of astronomy. He also is the director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics. Previously, as an assistant professor at Yale University, Krauss received a Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1986. He also was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University.

Krauss is the recipient of numerous international awards for his research accomplishments and his writing, and is the only physicist to have received the highest awards of the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Institute of Physics. Krauss is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He also is a scientist with a flair for the arts and popular culture. Krauss has performed with the Cleveland Orchestra, narrating Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” He also was nominated for a Grammy award for his liner notes for a Telarc CD of music from “Star Trek.” In 2005, he served as a jury member at the Sundance Film Festival.

When he’s not writing, teaching, commentating or lecturing, Krauss says he enjoys scuba diving, fly fishing and mountain biking.