Director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and co-recipient of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics David Gross spoke on March 22 on what he believed to be the major questions facing physicists for the next quarter century.

“The most important product of knowledge is ignorance,” Gross said. “The product of our knowledge is that we can now ask more intelligent questions. These are 25 questions that might guide us in the future.”

Speaking in Hubbell Auditorium, Gross covered a wide range of pressing questions in physics, compiled from a number of eminent theoretical physicists. They ranged from well-discussed topics such as how the universe began to lesser-known topics such as supersymmetry.

He addressed questions such as “How did the universe begin?” and “What leads to the formation of stars?”

Gross, along with Frank Wilczek and David Politzer, is a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2004 for their contribution to the Standard Model, the theory that describes all physics connected with the electromagnetic force, the weak and the strong force.

The three discovered an important property concerning the dominant force in the atomic nucleus called the Color Force.

They found that when the quarks in the proton and neutron of the atomic nucleus were closer together, the Color Force became weaker, and that when they became close enough, would often behave almost as free particles in a phenomenon called “asymptotic freedom.”

This theory led to the Theory of Quantum ChromoDynamics, which proved to be an essential contribution to the Standard Model.

“While the Nobel Prize is a nice recognition of one’s individual achievements, the discovery, exploration, verification and understanding of QCD is due to the remarkable work of many experimenters and theorists over 40 years,” Gross said.

He also marveled at the progress that had been made in theoretical physics over the last 35 years, joking that the advances in knowledge were almost too good to be true.

“Thiry-five years ago, except for electromagnetism and the theory of gravity, we did not know anything about the forces inside the nucleus of the atom. Now we have a [Standard Model] that works so well that some of my colleagues have complained to me that they can’t seem to find any deviations,” Ross said.

The general reactions to the lecture were positive from both students and faculty.

“I thought that the questions posed were about the basic foundations and properties of physics,” junior Trisha Ritchie said. “They were about what things were based upon and how applicable things like computers are related to biology and physics in general. The search for unification in science is really a search for bringing everything together. It was a really great way of viewing the mind frame of physics. I think anyone could have come to this lecture and gotten something out of it.”

Many science majors were in attendance and were captivated.

“The breadth was incredible,” sophomore Brad Taylor said. “It seems fairly obvious that there’s going to be a lot to do [in physics]. I was extremely excited for this. If we had more of this I’d definitely be very pleased about it.”

“It was a great privilege to have David Gross come to Rochester and deliver this year’s Montroll Lecture,” Professor of Physics and Dean of Research and Graduate Studies Paul Slattery said. “Nobel Laureates have enormous demands made on their time from a very wide range of people and organizations, and it was probably the fact that many of us have known David for years that resulted in his accepting our invitation.”

The Montroll Lectures are a series of lectures sponsored by the UR Physics Department in honor of the former statistical physicist in the department. The lectures bring a distinguished scientist to the Rochester campus once every two or three years for a series of seminars and colloquium.

“The topic of Gross’ talk was very ambitious – identifying the major questions that will occupy the attention of physicists over the next 25 years, but he successfully pulled it off,” Slattery said. “I thought that he went into each question in just enough detail to properly frame the issue without losing everyone but the experts. In my opinion, his talk was probably the most accessible in the series of Montroll Lectures sponsored by the Department of Physics and Astronomy over the years.”

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