Lisa Randall on the origin of the universe -- Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Happy Ada Lovelace day! This is the day that bloggers all over the world post about women in science as part of a global day of awareness and appreciation for the (often underreported) role that women play in the sciences.

My contribution is this fantastic presentation by physicist Lisa Randall at the Origins conference in Tallahassee Florida, broadcast last Friday as part of NPR's Science Friday show. Randall is the author of Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions, a popular science book that addresses fundamental questions about the nature of the universe. On this show, Randall explains what an expanding universe is expanding into, the relationship of gravity, magnetism and hidden time-space dimensions, and other mind-benders about the origin of the universe (she also talks a little about the role of women in science).

Physicist Lisa Randall on Space, Time, and Hidden Dimensions (broadcast Friday, March 20th, 2009) (MP3 link)

See other Ada Lovelace Day posts


  1. actually, it’s kinda expanding into its shrinky end while warbling back and forth through all these stringy membraney things, though ya gotta keep in mind it just IS alla time anyway.

  2. Can anyone explain to me why this particular day became Lovelace Day, instead of, say, her birthday? Or why the previous post said Lovelace day was 3/24 – tomorrow?

  3. I read this book a few years ago and enjoyed it thoroughly. In terms of physics writing, I’d put Lisa Randall in the same group as Brian Greene and Lee Smolin.

  4. @my previous post. Note: I’d put them in the same group based on writing style, quality, and intended audience. I certainly wouldn’t put them in the same group based on views and content (I don’t think Lee Smolin would appreciate being grouped with Brian Greene).

  5. I found the book to be semi-interesting (IAAP, albeit with just an ABD). People who do read this book should be aware that not all theorists think string/brane theory is on the right track. Aside from the near-untestability of the theories (due to the high-energy regimes needed), the ever-increasing levels of complexity suggest to some that the basic premises have gone awry.

  6. @ #5

    That’s still very good company – even if Smolin disagrees with Greene about string theory.

  7. And here I thought Madame Curie was famous. Maybe it’s me, but I think her contribution to science was one of the most significant. That’s not to take anything away from Lisa Randall, or anyone else for that matter). Hell, my fiance is a scientist! But, hands down, Marie Curie has my vote.

  8. Say, Takky, and all you smart fellers,
    while we’re on physics, lemme axe you guys a question that I’ve asked physicists and others, none of whom seemed sure of their answer:
    Does electricity travel at the speed of light?
    Please indicate whether you’re guessing or know fer sure.

  9. Electricity by itself , e.g. lightning, does not travel at light speed (lightining can travel at good percentage of light, 60,000 miles/second (wikipedia)) ,but it is a form of matter that has mass (plasma) and thus cannot travel at light speed. Electricity, too, is composed of electrons – again matter – so it does not travel at light speed. This is not the full story. Electrons exchange a force particle with other matter particles – protons for instance . These exchange (force communicating) particles are “photons”. Photons *are* energy and they *are* light particles (quanta). They have no mass whatsoever and so travel at that upper (universal) speed limit – the speed of light, symbolized by physisists as ‘C’ (e=m*c^2), and goes at 182,282 miles per second.

  10. “Does electricity travel at the speed of light?”

    Are we talking AC or DC?

    You know, I have a few remaining Cosmological questions myself. The old cliche that used to annoy Bertrand Russell, “‘What is mind?’ No matter. ‘What it matter?’ Never mind” answers most Big Questions to my satisfaction, but I’d still like a physicist to explain why they think time exists.

    I have seen no evidence for it. All I see is motion, and anything called “time” can be explained by motion, and in fact all our measures of time refer to motion. Lacking a discreet time dimension would not allow everything to happen at once since everything would still have to move from where it is to where it’s going, so what keeps everything from happening all at once is distance, apparently. This is compatible with General Relativity if we consider a gravitational time dilation to be a function of the increased distance electromagnetic waves must travel due to the warping of space caused by a massive object.

    BTW: Wormholes are how our brain stores memories, and why we can fit this whole big Multiverse inside our head even though our head is an almost negligibly small part of the Multiverse. Mind, not Time, is the 4th dimension (it’s a container smaller than that which it contains). But I could be wrong, though somewhere there’s a parallel dimension where I’m probably correct, and today I’m pretending it’s this one.

  11. # 14

    What would you accept as evidence!?

    What do you mean by mind? What is this “mind” you keep talking about. You mean the activity of your brain? You believe in dualism? Ok, but this is about science not philosophy. You don’t get to make stuff up.

  12. blueelm,

    I know your type. You denied the existence of microwaves and the possibility of flight. The idea that nothing exists until it’s been proven is the antithesis of scientific thinking.

  13. Thanks guys! I completely understand everything you’ve said, except who the hell is General Relativity? Is he in the British Army?

  14. I can just see our Village Idiot asking a physicist to prove that Time exists, as opposed to just being distance.
    The physicist replies “Stand right there, don’t move, and I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

    No offense, Amigo. Maybe you’re right. After all, just standing there aren’t you traveling at about 1,037mph, or so?

    1. After all, just standing there aren’t you traveling at about 1,037mph, or so?

      Only if you don’t count the Earth’s movement around the Sun, or the rotation of the Milky Way, or the changing distance between our galaxy and an undefinable universal reference point.

      And your electrons are traveling even faster around your atomic nuclei.


    So where’s the discussion on ADA LOVELACE?? We women NEVER get the credit due re technology, esp those who were the true pioneers. It’s hard for us to be respected and encouraged if we are constantly left out of history, whether it’s tech, movies, art, and more.

    Let’s NOT quibble whether Ada or Mdme Curie deserve more fame. They were sisters under the skin, fearless scientific pioneers, who changed history and civilization. Ada had a short, difficult life, but left behind ideas and writing which changed the course of civilization.

    Don’t forget that Eli Whitney DID NOT invent the cotton gin. Women were NOT allowed to patent ideas, but many feel Catherine Littlefield Greene invented it. The list goes on and on. The point is women are STILL belittled and ignored and not encouraged to be techies.

    I am so glad blogged about Ada. My article about her is up and running, plus I’ve emailed female PHP coders, who NEVER heard of her. I’m not even a “trained” programmer, but ran across her name here and there.

    Thank G-d some women who have brains use them, no matter the obstacles! Most know me cos of my punk photos, but without my insatiable techie brain, the photos would never be online. Many only think of me as an artist. Art and technology are merely two sides of the same coin.

    So sink your teeth into that one.

    Now, a moment of gratitude towards Ada Lovelace, who affected EVERYONE using a computer.

  16. #20

    Is there an exact ratio you had in mind as an equality target for citations of brilliant contributors’ genders? Gotta be sure it’s all even-steven… right I get it. Of course if it’s then discovered that some other inconsequential trait separates us from duly honoring accomplishment we’ll have to address that too. It’s only fair, you’d agree?

    Let us hope one day merit can be based not on the history of one’s physical attributes, but on the substantive effort of the actual individual.

  17. After all, just standing there aren’t you traveling at about 1,037mph, or so?

    No, I am the center of the universe.

  18. @26 / LF:

    Did you really miss the part where JennyLens was talking about people, contributors to science, important scientists whose work /wasn’t/ recognized due to stupid crap like women not being able to file patents?

    It’s never been about making things even-steven. leave the strawfeminists out of this – ALD is about celebrating the women who do science, because there hasn’t been enough celebration so far.

  19. Sorry, MDH, but there’s been a paradigm shift- OctoMom is at the center now. I blame the Bush administration.

    But on the subject of Women Of Science, I’m hoping Dr. Bones is an inspiration for a new generation of young Ladies of Science. She’s such a babe, and she kicks ass! She’s the new millenium equivalent of Our Man Flint.

  20. @29 re @26: thanks for responding. I have NO idea what @26 was ranting about. Me thinks LF is not a woman. I’ve yet to meet a woman who wasn’t constantly struggling as a young girl to learn science and math and not be discouraged by teachers, fellow students, parents, media, etc.

    I have no idea why at the age of 5 I wanted to be the next Mdme Curie. How had I even heard of her? But by the time I got into high school, after Biology 2 and Chemistry 2, I realized I was in for a life of rejection from men in science.

    I turned to my other love and focused on art. But I’ve never turned off my love of science. Without my mostly self-taught techie skills, I wouldn’t be able to share my photos with the world. I have fans — I know peeps laugh when I say that. But my photos have inspired many. I have brought joy, solace and more to countless thousands of people whose lives have literally been changed by my photos. I had no idea, no one does, until you read my emails.

    But without people like Ada Lovelace and all the women programmers and scientists and techies in the world, my art would not be seen.

    Think how boring and empty this world would be without women, and how hard we’ve struggled. And the irony so many young (and some older) women have NO idea the small gains, and willingly give them up, due to being afraid of being too masculine or heaven forbid, being called a feminist.

    These are just little instances how women are part of the continuum, but not recognized, not encouraged and kept in line because we value our femininity, but never a feminist.

    I was just at a PHP Meetup Sunday at Mahalo’s office in Santa Monica. Three of the four women there discussed this very fact. We are surrounded and diminished by men. We were so pleased the speaker is a woman. An experienced PHP programmer, speaker and teacher. Who never heard of Ada Lovelace.

    I love men and most of my pals are men (but I don’t work as a programmer). But in the techie world, we are still living as second-class citizens too often. We have more choices now, but we really have to work at it and assert ourselves more than many men.

    How sad — wouldn’t it be better if we could just focus on the work instead?

    Ada Lovelace was quite an inspiration. Read about her difficult life, her illnesses and yes, her death at the hands of medical “experts” who bled her to death.

    Hmm, do you think a woman would allow another woman to bleed to death? Do you think the earlier healers, the female herbalists called witches so the male medical profession could rule the roost, would drain the body’s most precious fluids, or look to other healing methods?

    THAT is what this is about. Women have so much to give, we are healers, compassionate, energetic, and bright. Let’s celebrate and encourage women in technology and thank them for all they have given us. In many cases, women have made our lives better, but without recognition or personal gain. That’s what this is about.

    If you don’t get that, well, I’m glad I don’t walk in your shoes. You have no heart nor compassion, and I could not live that way.

    Let’s give credit where credit is due, with joyous gratitude.

  21. “Forget this world and all its troubles and if
    possible its multitudinous Charlatans — every thing in short but the Enchantress of Numbers.”

  22. My picks:

    computer programming: Ada Lovelace (along with her mother, Anne Milbanke, for steering her into math instead of poetry)
    electronic music: Delia Derbyshire
    structural biology: Rosalind Franklin, Dorothy Hodgkin
    genetics: Barbara McClintock
    microbiology: Bonnie Bassler
    bioinformatics: Ruth Nussinov
    molecular evolution: Margaret Oakley Dayhoff

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