Monday, April 13, 2009

The Origins Symposium Part 1 of 5

Attention Physics Buzz Blog fans. We've got a special treat for all of our loyal readers. This post will be the first in a series running all this week from the recent Origins Institute kick-off event. The four day event included presentations and discussions from leading scientists that delve into the origins of life and the universe. The following was written by our southwest correspondent Alaina Levine from The University of Arizona and Quantum Success Solutions. Stay tuned for full coverage of the physics of the meeting, culminating with an exclusive two-part interview with Brian Greene at the end of the week!

Origins: The Big Questions, Disagreements and Laughter Amongst Scientists, and Hangin' with Frank Wilczek

By Alaina G. Levine

While the nation is embroiled in economic woe and stimulus skepticism, famed physicist and author Lawrence Krauss launched a new type of stimulus plan in the desert of Arizona last weekend that has guaranteed results. The currency here was not money, but rather something some might argue provides much more wealth than any lucre: scientific knowledge, thought and discussion on the origins of everything.

How did the Universe Begin? How did life arise? How do 70 of the world's top scientists behave when assembled in a room together? These are some of the questions that were addressed, whether intentionally or by accident, at the first ever Origins Symposium, held April 3-6, 2009 in the Phoenix area.

Organized by Krauss, who until 2008 was a professor of cosmology at Case Western Reserve University, the symposium served as the kick-off event of Arizona State University’s (ASU) Origins Initiative, for which Krauss now serves as Director. The Symposium, which brought scholars (including Nobel Laureates) together from such diverse disciplines as physics, linguistics, planetary science, physical anthropology, and evolutionary biology, was organized with the most basic question in mind: Where do we come from?

For three days scientists gave lectures and led discussions and arguments on the fundamental questions of our origins, from the dawn of the universe to the genesis of social networks. While much of the Symposium was limited to the scientists themselves, the entire experience was webcast live and will be archived on the Origins ( website for anyone to view in the future.

There were also plenty of opportunities for the public to hear from and interact with the scholars. There was a live radio broadcast of NPR's Science Friday with Ira Flatow and two panels of notable scientists such as Brian Greene and Steve Weinberg, and a full day of seminars, capped with a virtual presentation by Stephen Hawking. (Hawking was originally scheduled to give his presentation in person, but a chest infection and a warning from his doctor prevented him from flying. Instead, he pre-recorded his lecture and his daughter Lucy Hawking, with whom he has written a children's science book, came and introduced his virtual address.)

Pre-symposium activities included a panel discussion for ASU students with significant science writers and editors from such publications as The New York Times, Scientific American, and The Washington Post. Claudia Dreifus, a Contributing Writer with the New York Times Science Times, commenced the panel by declaring "Lawrence Krauss has managed to assemble the largest amount of intellectual and argumentative people in the desert since Moses.

(images courtesy of Origins-Edge)

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