Nobel Conference 49

The Universe at Its Limits
Oct. 1 & 2, 2013

We live at a remarkable moment in the understanding of the most fundamental questions of science. What is the universe made of? Where did it come from? Where is it going? At Nobel Conference 49, “The Universe at Its Limits,” to be held on October 1 and 2, 2013, we will explore these questions in the light of recent discoveries and spend time contemplating both their scientific and their philosophical implications.

Western science has roots in ancient Greece, where two seemingly opposite lines of inquiry began over 2,000 years ago. The first was astronomy, the study of what is “outside,” beyond the boundaries of Earth. Over the centuries this discipline has looked outward to our solar system, our home galaxy, and beyond, to examine the large-scale structure of the Universe. The second was the study of “inside” matter, which began with the concept of the atom but has reached the realm of subatomic particles and the fundamental forces in nature.

In the 20th century, astronomy culminated in Big Bang cosmology, a theory of the origin and evolution of an expanding Universe. At the same time, subatomic physics created the Standard Model of the constituents of energy and matter that make up that Universe. From the quest for grand unification to the search for the Higgs boson, the science of the early 21st century pushes to find the limits of the Standard Model and, perhaps, to go beyond.

Along the way, several crucial discoveries have shown us that these two seemingly opposite limits of the very large and the very small are intimately connected with each other. The finite speed of light tells us that, the farther we look out into space, the farther back we look in time. The expanding universe implies that, at an earlier time, it was once much hotter and denser than it is today. The Standard Model, in its attempts to unify the forces of nature, shows that such unification can only occur under the kind of hot, dense conditions that existed right after the Big Bang. So today we seek answers to the questions of the origin, constituents, and evolution of the universe—from the WMAP measurements supporting theories of early cosmic inflation, to the gravitational measurements pointing to the existence of dark matter, to the white dwarf supernovae data indicating a dark energy accelerating the expansion of our Universe—both in telescopes, which look outward to examine the vastness of the cosmos, and in particle accelerators, which look inward and seek to create its most fundamental building blocks.

Featured speakers for the 2013 Nobel Conference include: 2004 Nobel laureate in physics Frank Wilczek of MIT; 2006 Nobel laureate in physics George Smoot of the University of California, Berkeley, and Paris Diderot University; Tara Shears, particle physicist, University of Liverpool, who has been involved with the Large Hadron Collider project at CERN; Vera Rubin, research astronomer with the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C.; Lawrence Krauss, physicist and astronomer at Arizona State University; S. James Gates Jr., string and particle theorist, University of Maryland, College Park; Alexei Filippenko, astrophysicist and supernovae researcher at the University of California, Berkeley; and Fr. George Coyne, SJ, former director of the Vatican Observatory and head of the observatory’s research group based at the University of Arizona.


George V. Coyne, S.J., Ph.D.
McDevitt Chair of Religious Philosophy, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, NY, former director of the Vatican Observatory, and head of the observatory’s research group based at the University of Arizona, Tucson
Alexei V. Filippenko, Ph.D.
Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in the Physical Sciences, Department of Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley
S. James Gates Jr., Ph.D.
University System of Maryland Regents Professor, John S. Toll Professor of Physics, and Center for String and Particle Theory Director, University of Maryland, College Park
Lawrence M. Krauss, Ph.D.
Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, Department of Physics, and director of the Origins Project, Arizona State University, Tempe
Tara G. Shears, Ph.D.
professor of physics and Royal Society University Research Fellow at CERN, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
George F. Smoot III, Ph.D.
professor of physics, University of California, Berkeley; senior scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; professor of physics, Paris Diderot University, France; and 2006 Nobel laureate in physics
Samuel C.C. Ting, Ph.D.
Thomas Dudley Cabot Institute Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; 1976 Nobel laureate in physics
Frank A. Wilczek, Ph.D.
Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; and 2004 Nobel laureate in physics