Fifth Solvay Conference 1927

The October 1927 Fifth Solvay International Conference on Electrons and Photons, where the world’s most notable physicists met to discuss the newly formulated quantum theory.

The leading figures were Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. Einstein, disenchanted with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, remarked “God does not play dice”. Bohr replied, “Einstein, stop telling God what to do”.

Seventeen of the 29 attendees were or became Nobel Prize winners, including Marie Curie, who alone among them, had won Nobel Prizes in two separate scientific disciplines.

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Our presence in the universe is something too bizarre for words. The mundaneness of our daily lives cause us take our existence for granted — but every once in awhile we’re cajoled out of that complacency and enter into a profound state of existential awareness, and we ask: Why is there all thisstuff in the universe, and why is it governed by such exquisitely precise laws? And why should anything exist at all? We inhabit a universe with such things as spiral galaxies, the aurora borealis, and SpongeBob Squarepants. And as Sean Carroll notes, “Nothing about modern physics explains why we have these laws rather than some totally different laws, although physicists sometimes talk that way — a mistake they might be able to avoid if they took philosophers more seriously.” And as for the philosophers, the best that they can come up with is the anthropic principle— the notion that our particular universe appears the way it does by virtue of our presence as observers within it — a suggestion that has an uncomfortably tautological ring to it.

A Noble Prize Winner’s Poor School Report

I think this is a very interesting topic I want to share in this blog. What will you think of someone who was awarded the Nobel Prize? The immediate assumption when we hear someone who has won the Nobel Prize is that he must be a brilliant and hard-working individual.

But in this case is totally different. A Cambridge scientist Sir John Gurdon, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine this year, had a poor science report when at school. John B. Gurdon is a British development biologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the discovery that mature cells can be converted to stem cells in 2012, along with Shinya Yamanaka. His school science report began with the word ‘Disastrous’ and the teacher even questioned about his dream of becoming a scientist.

‘I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist,’ his biology teacher wrote. ‘On his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can’t learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part, and of those who have to teach him.’

This must be a lesson for teachers today!

School report for Nobel prize winner Dr John Gurdon from his days studying Biology at Eton College in 1949

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

—Bertrand Russel (1872 – 1970, British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic)