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Zenith Grant Awardee

John Barrow

University of Cambridge


Marianne Freiberger, University of Cambridge Rachel Thomas, University of Cambridge

Project Title

Stuff Happens: the Physics of Events

Project Summary

Physics focuses on the study of events. But what is an event? How does the definition differ between different areas of science? Is there a hierarchy of events, with a collection of separate events from one vantage point appearing as a single event when viewed from another perspective? And how do different events relate to each other? These kinds of questions are fundamental to our understanding of physics – but paradoxically, so fundamental that they might appear trivial to non-experts, unaware of their potential as rich starting points for research. Our proposal bridges this significant gap between fundamental questions and the understanding of the interested but non-specialist public. The physics of events encompasses a wide range of areas – from relativity to statistical mechanics, for instance – and offers a huge variety of entry points for a general audience, including young people and educators. Through articles, podcasts and videos, we will map out key topic areas in the physics of events, allowing readers to make their own exploration of this territory. The material will be produced in collaboration with leading researchers and be published on Plus, the award-winning free online maths magazine, where it will form a rich and lasting resource.

Technical Abstract

Through a series of academically rigorous articles, interviews, podcasts and videos, to be published on Plus, our award-winning international online magazine (http://plus.maths.org), this project aims to provide the public and high school students with a deeper understanding of the questions explored by the fundamental research supported by FQXi into the physics of events. Materials produced for the project will be based on interviews with leading researchers in the field, and combined into a format that will attract a diverse audience, have long-lasting use and remain freely available indefinitely. We will cover a number of important areas of physical science in which the ambiguity of what constitutes an ‘event’ plays an important role. Examples of topics include: laws versus events; the nature of time; relativity; statistical physics; cosmology; analogies of ‘events’ in mathematics. In addition, we expect that successful grant holders in this RFP will be proposing new ideas about the physics of events that do not fall within the areas listed here. We will be keen to interact with other grant holders to provide them with a platform for wider engagement, to report on their discoveries, and to raise the public profile of the whole FQXi programme.

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