99: Sheldon Glashow: The Power of Useless Ideas!


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Sheldon Glashow is a theoretical physicist and emeritus professor at Harvard, where he also earned his Ph.D. He was the first to propose a grand unified theory and also worked as a visiting scientist at CERN. Glashow shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics with Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg. He is a member of the Board of Sponsors for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It was an honor to have Sheldon Glashow on the INTO THE IMPOSSIBLE podcast.

He joins our Nobel Minds playlist, having won the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, for his "contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including, inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current.”

Shelly recounts a remarkable life as the son of a plumber who went to the acclaimed Bronx Science high school and then worked his way through some of the most notable laboratories in the world, meeting colleagues and forming collaborations along the way. Having won science’s top prize over 40 years ago didn’t slow him down, as he only recently retired from research and teaching. Shelly’s 1988 book, “Interactions: A Journey Through the Mind of a Particle Physicist and the Matter of this World,” holds up decades later as one that asks important questions about physics and guides future generations of scientists.

I recommend that everyone curious about the field read it. His writing style is enviously humorous and accessible. I was interested to hear about how his love of science fiction encouraged his career as a physicist. Considering many of the topics we cover would have been considered science fiction even in the time that Shelly has been alive, he is properly impressed and optimistic about the benefits technology can have on scientific discovery. It was also encouraging to see how interested and engaged he still is in the pursuit of knowledge. Though he does express some pessimism about the future of humanity. Perhaps it’s hard not to during the pandemic, combined with the grim news about climate change and other threats. Hopefully, the fields he and I know and love - “useless fields” as he calls them - can continue that Nobel legacy of bettering humankind. You will enjoy this Full course: Quantum Field Theory by Sidney Coleman (1975) [Havard Physics 253 https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLhsb6tmzSpiwrZuDMyweABm7FShZu3YUv

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