The Institute Letter Spring 2015

In 1913, Victor Hess measured the background level of atmospheric ionization while ascending with a balloon. By doing so, he discovered that Earth is continuously bathed in ionizing radiation. These cosmic rays primarily consist of protons and...

When Sabine Schmidtke and Hassan Ansari, an Iranian national, met more than a decade ago in Tehran, Ansari was a ­student of the traditional religious system in Qum and Tehran (the “Hawza”). Ansari had read Schmidtke’s doctoral thesis The...

Many natural and social phenomena may be viewed as inherently computational; they evolve patterns of information that can be described algorithmically and studied through computational models and techniques. A workshop on the computational lens,...

Light is the great unifier. John Wheeler, the beloved Princeton physicist, used to draw the universe as a big capital U with a little eye on one leg, signifying that we, human beings, are the eyes of the universe looking back at...

Early this December, newspaper headlines made the sensational claim that recent DNA evidence had called into question the legitimacy of the British monarchy: scientists had identified what is known as a false-paternity event. Genetic analysis of...

In the 1991 film Not Without My Daughter, Sally Field plays an American woman who has a daughter with her Iranian-born husband. When the family visits Iran, Field’s character learns that the husband plans to stay in Iran with their...

Thanks to the rabbit I pulled out of my hat on my returning from the museum the other evening, I’ve been able to get back on track. But today I’m filled with a strange mixture of optimism and dread. . . . the complexity of the mathematical landscape that’s now opened up makes my head spin if I think about it for more than a few moments.

On the second Sunday after Trinity in 1724, the congregation at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig heard Johann Sebastian Bach’s new cantata that began with the words Ach Gott. Bach set the word Gott to the most dissonant triad known at the...

In the Spring 2013 Institute Letter, Uta Nitschke-Joseph wrote “A Fortuitous Discovery: An Early Manuscript by Erwin Panofsky Reappears in Munich,” in which she reconstructed the convoluted fate of the lost, and in 2012 re-found,...

I gave a copy of the preprint of my paper to Robert Oppenheimer, who, as Director of the Institute for Advanced Study, was my host. A week later I met him at an Eastern Physics Meeting at the University of Maryland, my home institution. When I asked him if he had read my paper, he replied, “Greenberg, it’s beautiful!” I was elated. After a pause, he completed his assessment of my paper by saying, “But I don’t believe a word of it!”

In his 1951 poem “Harlem,” Langston Hughes, writer and social activist, famously questioned the outcome of a “dream deferred.” Does such a dream dry up, fester, stink, crust and sugar over, or sag like a heavy load, he pondered. Then, foreshadowing the hundreds of race riots that would take place in the 1960s and 1970s, he ends his poem with an emphatic query: Or does it explode?