Life & Science

Physics and Feminism

Lisa randall feature

There’s nothing wrong with being a feminist, said Lisa Randall in a recent interview with Laura Ewert of Interview Magazine. She was the first tenured woman in the Princeton University physics department and the first tenured female theoretical physicist at both MIT and Harvard University. The DLD friend knows exactly which effect she has when talking about the fabrics of the universe. She leaves both non-physicists and experts dazzled.

This effect she had at least at DLD12, where Randall described her work and that of her colleagues around the world, discovering what underlying principles help guiding our knowledge about the universe.

As a professor of particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University, Randall is concerned with theoretical physics. Her research includes elementary particles and fundamental forces, work which she has described with great success in her book Knocking on Heaven’s Door.

Another reason to write books like these is to draw attention to women working in science. There are not many, but they do exist, she points out. Randall was the first in her field because people were too stupid to employ a woman before she came along, she said in the interview. Thus, Randall joins the small league of female role models in science, like for instance Tania Singer who spoke at DLDwomen.

What Art, Religion and Science Have in Common

Women like Randall tackle the larger questions of the universe itself. At DLD12 she said that the work with CERN’s Large Hadron Collider is the type of work that can allow us to see some of these principles that help guiding our knowledge about the universe; among other things thanks to the right use of scale.

By understanding that certain things can only be understood fully and intuitively if we use the right scale or resolution, we have achieved remarkable scientific insight, Randall said. She used the Eiffel Tower as an apt metaphor for the principle of physical exploration and theoretical advances. Too close and we don’t see the context, too far away and we miss the details.

There are distinct approaches to the questions about the universe, and people will turn to one or the other, Randall said. “Art, religion and science are all ways at getting at these big questions,” she added. To her, science will obviously lead the way, but that does not mean that there is no role for the other two, she said. There is a subtle beauty in how different approaches all serve to drive our urge for understanding forward.

Scientific thinking, however, is the engine that will bring us closer to the Universe. It is about creativity and discovery, role of scale, uncertainty and risk, but also truth and beauty, Randall said. “We’ve come a long way, but there is still a lot to do and a lot to learn.”

Randall may not believe in God, but she brings us closer to a world of science in which a female brain can do a lot for mankind.

Mentioned in this article

Lisa Randall
Harvard University
Professor of Physics
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA
Tania singer quadrat
Tania Singer
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Director of the Department of Social Neuroscience
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences