Science in the club

“Science is useful, it’s also fun, and in that way it’s like sex,” joked Cliff Burgess on the endless pursuit for scientific knowledge. “You don’t do it because it’s useful.”

Burgess, who is an associate faculty member at the Perimeter Institute, was one of three panelists at “Science in the Club,” a discussion on the future of science held at Starlight on Sept. 18.

The event was organized by the Perimeter Institute, and was complemented by its partner event at the Huether Hotel, “Science in the Pub.”

Discussion facilitator Richard Epp, the senior manager of educational outreach at Perimeter Institute, began with a broad discussion on the definition of science, and what innovations could be expected in the near future.

“I think science is all about asking questions,” explained Thomas Jennewein, a faculty member at the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing. “Essentially, we don’t really know what we’re doing. That’s what science is.”

Panelist and research fellow at Perimeter Institute Alioscia Hamma added, “I don’t know what the future of science is, but science has a future, because we will never end discovering new things.”

As was acknowledged by Epp, as scientists develop the skills and technology to delve into life’s most enigmatic puzzles, the amount of information left to discover only seems to increase. “My sense is … that the universe is more mysterious now than it ever was,” Epp commented. He questioned, “What are the implications of that?”

“We’re in a forest and we’ve got a fire, and that’s what we know. And then we push the fire out a little bit, and we know more,” Burgess responded. “And you’re kind of asking, is there less darkness when we do that? It’s hard to answer that.”

Regardless of how much is left to discover, some of the work being done at present still seems unbelievably futuristic. For example, teleportation is now possible at the level of photons and atoms.

“This is not like the one we see in Star Trek, where people step into what looks like a shower, and come out somewhere else,” Jennewein said on quantum teleportation.

“What happens is the information of single quantum states … can be transferred onto a totally different quantum system … somewhere else.” This incredible accomplishment does not merely create a copy of the original material, but in fact teleports the original to another location.

The discussion was followed by a question and answer period with the audience. One attendee inquired, “Is there benefit in readdressing questions that supposedly have been solved in the past?” With the immense resources, both financial and material, that research consumes, it was an idea worth exploring.

Burgess replied, “If I can find a way to show that Einstein’s wrong, I will do it so fast that you don’t even see me, because then a hundred years from now you’ll be celebrating me and you wouldn’t care about Einstein.”

He continued, “The thing about science is that it’s results driven and if you can find something new that’s successful … that trumps everything.”

The unique location and amusing, though insightful, commentary by the panelists made for an entertaining and educational evening which attendees and presenters were reluctant to conclude.

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