On Tuesday 2nd October AS Physics students attended the Rayleigh Lecture at Harrow Boys School. This is a very prestigious event and this year’s speaker was Professor John Ellis, the Clear-Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics at Kings College London. Professor Ellis has published over 1000 scientific papers during an illustrious career at the university and at CERN, he has more citations than any other scientist globally. He gave a very engaging talk about the origins and the fate of the universe and how research is attempting to answer the big unknowns in science.
Professor Ellis spoke about how people used to think about the universe compared to the way they think now. For example, in the last century, the discovery of quantum mechanics really affected the way people think about nature. Quantum mechanics included the way that people developed mathematical descriptions of motion and interaction of particles and it was a shock for humans to realize that we are living on an insignificant planet, going around an insignificant star in an insignificant galaxy.
Professor Ellis’ research at CERN included experiments using particle accelerators which revealed the structure of the visible matter in the Universe, culminating most recently in the discovery of the Higgs boson, and giving us insights into the evolution of the Universe since a fraction of a second after the start of the Big Bang. The Higgs discovery may help us understand why the Universe is so large and old, and what may happen to the Universe in the future. Other particle experiments may help us understand the origin of the matter in the Universe and the nature of dark matter. The universe has been going on for billions of years and there will be more shocks if and when we understand more about the origin of the universe – and the more we learn the more questions are raised.