June 4, June 18, June 30, and July 8, 2020
In this interview, Paul Steinhardt, the Albert Einstein Professor in Science at Princeton, recounts his childhood in Miami and his undergraduate experience at Caltech, where he became interested in theoretical physics and where Feynman played a key influence on his development. He surveys where physics is stuck and compares similar challenges that both string theory and inflation are facing, and he explains his reasons for going to Harvard for his graduate work. Steinhardt describes being a student of Sidney Coleman’s and his focus on gauge theories. He discusses his postgraduate work at IBM Research and as a Junior Fellow at Harvard, and he explains the opportunity that led to his faculty appointment at the University of Pennsylvania. Steinhardt describes his increasing interest in cosmology and the influence of Alan Guth. He explains his dual interest in condensed matter physics and where he saw commonality with his cosmological research. Steinhardt conveys the importance of his collaboration with Dov Levine and he explains why he thinks the notion of a multiverse is nonscientific but not necessarily impossible. He explains his focus on quasicrystals for a time at the exclusion of cosmology, and the circumstances leading to his decision to join the faculty at Princeton which was a central point for research on the cosmic wave background. Steinhardt discusses his work on dark energy and the cosmological constant and his related interactions with Michael Turner. He describes his efforts to link the mystery of the Big Bang with the physics that can be understood after the beginning of the universe, and why the notion of the universe having a clear beginning is problematic. Steinhardt describes his frustration with string theorists who are working on abstract rather than existential research problems, and he surveys the technological advances that could make some of the intractable puzzles in cosmology testable, including the bouncing model of cosmology. He relates an epic story of mineral mining in pursuit of earthly quasicrystals, and at the end of the interview, Steinhardt describes his search for good puzzles as the common thread that connects all of his research.