The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th-Century Science
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Presented by the Readers and Writers Program
Speaker: Alan Lightman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author
Alan Lightman will discuss his latest book The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th-century Science. An unprecedented explosion of creativity, insight, and breakthrough occurred in every field of science in the last century. From the theory of relativity to the first quantum model of the atom to the mapping of the structure of DNA, these discoveries profoundly changed the way we understand the world and our place in it.
In the book, physicist and novelist Alan Lightman tells the stories of two dozen of the most seminal discoveries. He paints the intellectual and emotional landscape of each discovery, portrays the personalities and human drama of the scientists involved, and explains the significance and impact of the work.
He explores such questions as whether there were common patterns of research, whether the discoveries were accidental or intentional, and whether the scientists were aware of or oblivious to the significance of what they had found. Finally, Lightman gives a guided tour through each of the original papers, which are included in the book.
Here are Einstein and Bohr, McClintock and Pauling, Planck and Heisenberg, and many others in their own words, grappling with the nature of the world. This is an opportunity to witness a chronicle of the great moments of scientific discovery in the 20th century, and an exploration into the minds of the remarkable men and women behind them.
Alan Lightman was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and educated at Princeton and at the California Institute of Technology, where he received a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. An active research scientist in astronomy and physics for two decades, he has also taught both subjects at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a Fellow of both the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Lightman's novels include A Sense of the Mysterious Einstein's Dreams, which was an international best seller; The Diagnosis, which was a finalist for the National Book Award; and Reunion. His essays have appeared in The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, Nature, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker, among other publications.