Cosmologist Avery Broderick (Associate Faculty member, Perimeter Institute) focuses on black holes, and leads Perimeter's Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Initiative.
PI: Scientific discoveries often happen where two or more fields intersect. What is your favourite scientific intersection, and why?
AB: I'm a relativist at heart, but an astronomer in practice. The whole schtick of what I do is that those two things intersect. For instance, with the new Event Horizon Telescope we can, for the first time, peer right to the edges of black holes. You can cast that as the intersection of astronomy and relativity; or if you want you can cast that as the intersection of empiricism and theory.
PI: Breakthroughs often happen at the broken places. What’s the most exciting broken place for you?
AB: I think great breakthroughs in physics happen when we look with new eyes. In astronomy, this happens over and over again, because "new eyes" is almost literal. You put up the first radio telescope and find the universe is full of non-thermal stuff. That was truly a shock.
Every time that astronomy has pushed to a new waveband – we've pushed to ultraviolet; to infrared; to x-rays and gamma rays – we've seen a different universe. That has led to fundamental discoveries about the universe, fundamental discoveries in astrophysics. In theory, when people are faced with paradoxes or loose threads, I think perhaps their intensity of looking at the problem counts as new eyes. People are turning over every rock. From my perspective, the Event Horizon Telescope is exactly this. We're looking with new eyes and you never know what you'll see.
PI: "I am a physicist because..."
AB: ... Star Fleet doesn’t exist. When I was a kid I loved Star Trek, and the thing I liked the best was the idea that they would go to all these places and have adventures. In my heart, I am an explorer, and there are precious few places left to explore with your feet. So I explore with telescopes, and with computers, and with my mind. I get to travel to the outer reaches of the cosmos and try to uncover how the universe works.
But we should put this in a bigger context. Humanity faces a slew of problems, the worst of which we haven't even recognized yet. We solve these problems by understanding how our world works, and leveraging that understanding to build solutions. I think theoretical physics sits on the forefront of expanding the set of things we understand about our world and our place in it. It will be absolutely critical. I want to give my kids – and my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren – the tools they will need to solve the problems they will be faced with. Exploration is fun and great, but there is a deep purpose to doing fundamental science. It's good for humanity.
Avery Broderick will discuss the EHT at 2pm on Tuesday, June 23.
"Exploration is fun and great, but there is a deep purpose to doing fundamental science."