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Lawrence Krauss - Biographical Profile

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Lawrence Krauss - Biographical Profile

Cosmologist and author Lawrence M. Krauss of Arizona State University.

Photo by Guido Castagnoli, obtained from Krauss' website: http://krauss.faculty.asu.edu/

General Information:

Birthdate: May 27, 1954
Birthplace: New York City (but moved to Toronto shortly after his birth and grew up there)

Here is the full text of a brief interview I conducted with Lawrence Krauss on April 7, 2014.

Education & Academic History:

  • 1977 - Undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics at Ottawa's Carleton University, having earned first class honours.
  • 1982 - Physics Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • 1982 to 1985 - Member of the Harvard Society of Fellows
  • 1985 to 1993 - Assistant and then associate professorship at Yale
  • 1993 to 2005 - He went on to serve as the Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics, Professor of Astronomy, and Chairman of the department of Physics at Case Western Reserve University
  • 2008 to present (2011, at least) - Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department, and Inaugural Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University

 

Scientific Background:

Lawrence Krauss is a cosmologist, meaning that he studies the origins of the universe. In fact, he now runs the Origins Project at Arizona State University, which is a "transdisciplinary initiative that nurtures research, energizes teaching, and builds partnerships, offering new possibilities for exploring the most fundamental of questions who we are and where we came from." In this capacity, together with his scientific writing, he seeks to spread knowledge about the origins, evolution, and history of the universe to a general public.

Krauss and Scientific Controversies:

Lawrence Krauss is not one to shy away from a controversy, and working to find the origins of the universe can certainly cause some controversies.

Religion and Science: Though he is an atheist, he often takes a devil's advocate-style position which at times places him in amiable conflict with some more prominent atheists, such as Richard Dawkins (who once said Krauss asked him an "I'm an atheist, but..." question, which are far harder to tackle than the outright pro-religion questions). It seems that Krauss's goal is to teach everyone - the faithful and the atheist - what science tells us about the universe and its history, not particularly caring about changing their underlying belief structure. In recent years - particularly since his publication of A Universe From Nothing - Krauss has become much more vocal in opposition to religious and theist arguments. Krauss co-starred with Richard Dawkins in the documentary film The Unbelievers in 2013.

String Theory Critic: Krauss is one of the most prominent and respected critics of string theory. His 2005 book, Hiding in the Mirror details the history and allure of invoking extra dimensions as a physical explanation, and calls into question whether this is really justified. In an April 7, 2014, interview, Krauss told me about his stance in Hiding in the Mirror:

My point was that string theory is based on a lot of fascinating ideas. However, it has been the least successful great idea in science in the sense that it hasn't yet made touch with observation in any way. We still don't know if the ideas of string theory are right. They're really well motivated; it's not as if they aren't well motivated. But it was strongly hyped. And I guess I was against the hype, not the theory. It's not even a theory. It's unfair to evolution to call string theory a theory. It's not a theory. A theory is something that has been tested robustly by experiment and it's unfair to evolution to call it a theory. I said that many years ago and Brian Greene used to get mad at me, but now he agrees with me. But I think the point is that it's fascinating and we're studying it, it just hasn't had any great successes in terms of demonstrating that it can help us understand the universe. Maybe it will one day.

Science Writing:

Physicists write a lot of academic papers. In fact, according to his website, he has authored "over 300 scientific publications." In addition, Krauss regularly writes editorials, essays, and articles for popular magazines. He's written a number of books for popular audiences, making him one of the most prominent voices in explaining the history of the universe to lay audiences.

 

Awards:

  • Gravity Research Foundation First prize award (1984)
  • Presidential Investigator Award (1986)
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science's Award for the Public Understanding of Science and Technology (2000)
  • Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize (2001)
  • Andrew Gemant Award (2001)
  • American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award (2002)
  • Oersted Medal (2003)
  • American Physical Society Joseph P. Burton Forum Award (2005)
  • Center for Inquiry World Congress Science in the Public Interest Award (2009)
  • Helen Sawyer Hogg Prize of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the Astronomical Society of Canada (2009)

 

Krauss Quotes:

"You're here because you want to escape reality and that's one of the things that science is good for, to take us out at least a bit beyond our petty worries and concerns of the day."

"I want to try to ... take you beyond this brief moment in cosmic history, to realize that all of this isn't important, that the really important stuff is far grander. The next time you're depressed, you can think about the fact that we're really, in fact, completely insignificant.... You are much more insignificant than you thought."

"Rare events happen all the time because the universe is big and old."

“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements - the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life - weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode.... The stars died so that you could be here today.”

“The purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it.”

"All the hydrogen burns into helium in 10 million years.... All the helium burns to carbon in 1 million years.... Again, the star starts to collapse, because there's no more fuel. But then it heats up and the carbon starts to burn ... to form neon and nitrogen. And all of the carbon in the star burns in 100 thousand years.... And you get to oxygen. Oxygen ... burns to silicon in 10 thousand years. It's getting hotter and hotter and hotter. Less efficient. And then when all the oxygen burns to silicon, you're in the last day of the star because, remarkably, it is so hot at that point that all of the silicon in the center of the star, many thousands of times the mass of the Earth, burns to form iron in one day.... Iron can't burn to form anything. Iron is the most tightly-bound nucleus in nature. So once that's happened, there's no more fuel... When all the silicon has burned to iron, suddenly the star realizes there's no place left to go and that interior of the star, which has been held up by the pressure of nuclear burning, collapses. That whole collapse happens in one second.... There's a shock wave and that shock wave ... spews out all of the atoms that were created during the life history of a star. The carbon, the nitrogen, the helium, the iron. And that's vitally important, because every atom in your body was once inside a star that exploded.... The atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than in your right hand, because 200 million stars have exploded to make up the atoms in your body."

 

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