Today I am back from the 8th edition of the ICNFP conference, which finished yesterday in Kolymbari (Crete). This event is very interesting because of its wide scope, bringing together physicists from quite different fields in a venue that, due to its very relaxing, secluded nature favours post-session discussions and exchanges among the over 250 participants.
I am presently spending a few days in the pleasant island of Crete, in the middle of the Mediterranean, where I am attending the eight edition of the "International Conference on New Frontiers in Physics"
. Crete is a gorgeous island at the crossroads of three continents, and because of its location it is brimming with relics of ancient to less ancient history. Anyway, this post is rather about physics, so let me go back there.
Like it or not, human-enhanced global warming is an established scientific fact. Indeed, as much as we hate the idea that we are affecting the future living conditions of hundreds of millions of human beings (not to mention animal species) with our carbon dioxide emissions, most of us - reasonable people with no agenda or direct interests in polluting industries - agree on the fact, and most of us also agree that we are doing far too little to alleviate the dramatic ongoing phenomenon. The science is out, and while it is a healthy thing to question the data and the results in all cases, it is a far healthier thing to accept evidence when it is overwhelming.
Ever since telescopes were first invented, by some dutch lens grinder in the late XVIth century, and then demonstrated to be invaluable tools for investigating the cosmos around us by Galileo Galilei in the early 1600s, there has been a considerable, steady effort to construct bigger and better ones. Particularly bigger ones.
I'll admit, I wanted to rather title this post "Billionaire Awards Prizes To Failed Theories", just for the sake of being flippant. But in any joke there is a little bit of truth, as I wish to discuss below.
The (not-so-anymore) news is that the "Special Breakthrough prize" in fundamental physics, instituted a decade ago by Russian philantropist Yuri Milner, and then co-funded by other filthy wealthy folks, recently went to three brillant theoretical physicists: Sergio Ferrara, Dan Freedman, and Peter van Nieuwenzhuizen, who in the seventies developed an elegant quantum field theory, SuperGravity.
Our current understanding of the Universe includes the rather unsettling notion that most of its matter is not luminous - it does not clump into stars, that is. Nobody has a clue of what this Dark Matter (DM) really is, and hypotheses on what it could be made of are sold at a dime a dozen.
On the other hand, we clearly see the gravitational effects of DM on galaxies and clusters of galaxies, so the consensus of the scientific community is that one of those cheap theories must be true. What make this very close to a dream situation for an experimental scientist is the fact that we do have instruments capable of detecting, or ruling out, dark matter behaving according to most of the majority of those possibilities.