Ideas

Explore firsthand accounts of research and questions posed by IAS scientists and scholars. From art history to string theory, from moral anthropology to the long-term fate of the universe, contributions span the last decade to the research of today.

""

By Sophia Rosenfeld

Could empirically minded, plain-speaking, fact-checking journalists, bulked-up suffrage, court and educational systems, a tradition of street demonstrations, and the development of a new kind of First Amendment jurisprudence that paid more attention to maintaining facticity and reversing silencing techniques be enough to revitalize the democratic take on truth? Could any of the elements of the democratic imaginary, including liberty, equality, and dignity as well as truth become, once again, a widely shared goal? It is hard to say yes to either question as long as people seem to be living in such different worlds, economically and psychologically.

Ideas

By Robbert Dijkgraaf

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this discovery. There is only one moment in human history when we will have seen a black hole for the first time. And that moment is April 10, 2019. 

Natural Sciences

The 2019 Prospects in Theoretical Physics program, “Great Problems in Biology for Physicists,” featured talks by experts on topics ranging from virology, cancer, and immunology to machine learning and neural networks. 

""

By Alexander Gamburd

I met Jean in September 2005, six months after my daughter was born, while visiting IAS...  After changing my daughter’s diapers, I could not sleep, went to Simonyi Hall, and ran into Jean walking to the library. It was in this discombobulated state that I was free of fear to speak to him. By dawn, the problem which had been resisting my protracted attack for a decade was vanquished in Jean’s office.

In 2016, the Institute celebrated the work and impact of Professor Jean Bourgain. One of the most prolific and important mathematicians of our generation, Bourgain had an extraordinary ability to bring new perspectives to longstanding questions in number theory, probability theory, and statistical physics.
""

By Graham Farmelo

One of the biggest leaps forward in our understanding of these scattering amplitudes took place at the Institute for Advanced Study in the fall of 2003, when Edward Witten discovered a new approach to the subject, based on Roger Penrose’s twistors. They had yet to become part of mainstream physics, and most theorists regarded them as merely a mathematical curiosity. Witten’s work propelled them into the mainstream of theoretical physics, generated new lines of research, and opened up new ways of thinking about scattering in the subnuclear domain. 

""

By Didier Fassin and Anne-Claire Defossez

How could a leaderless grassroots movement, involving often quite small groups of protesters, monopolize the national news, capture the attention of the wider world, and destabilize a government that had swept to power by a landslide victory in 2017? As Jacques Rancière has suggested, it is as difficult to understand why some people mobilize when confronted with situations they regard as unacceptable, as it is to understand why others in similar or even worse circumstances do not. 

""

Watch talks from some of the world’s foremost science communicators on the close relationship between mathematics and physics.

""

By Angelos Chaniotis

The developments that Alexander’s campaigns set in motion ultimately led to the creation of a complex network of political, administrative, economic, and cultural connections that came close to the modern phenomenon of globalization. 

By Francesca Trivellato

The Promise and Peril of Credit examines key episodes in the West’s millennium-long struggle to delineate the place that finance ought to occupy in the social and political order. It does so by introducing readers to modes of thinking about the morality of credit that have become increasingly alien to us even as the questions that animated those early modern discussions remain as vital now as they were then.

By Karen Uhlenbeck

It's not so easy being a role model. One of the things you learn when you’re going through life and so forth is that you need role models, but you don’t need perfect role models. You need role models who fall down and pick themselves up. You need role models who show how even though you can’t do everything, you can do some things. You need role models to keep you going.

Mathematics

"It's kind of like physics in its formative stages—Newton asking what makes the apple fall down," says Sanjeev Arora, Visiting Professor in the School of Mathematics, explaining the current scientific excitement about machine learning. "Thousands of years went by before science realized it was even a question worth asking. An analogous question in machine learning is 'What makes a bunch of pixels a picture of a pedestrian?' Machines are approaching human capabilities in such tasks, but we lack basic mathematical understanding of how and why they work." 

Mathematics

By Avi Wigderson

In stark contrast to the elegant, concise algorithmic gems, which were man-made, many new algorithms simply “create themselves,” with relatively little intervention from humans, mainly through interaction with massive data.

By Juan Maldacena

What if black holes behave like ordinary quantum mechanical objects—and information about them is not lost, as previously thought, but retained on their horizons?

Natural Sciences

By Kelly Devine Thomas

An IAS teatime conversation in 1935 between Nathan Rosen, Boris Podolsky, and Albert Einstein, about a fundamental issue of interpretation related to entangled wave-functions, introduced an ongoing debate over quantum physics.

Natural Sciences

Black holes were thought to be something that existed somewhere else in the universe and were produced by the four-dimensional gravity that we experience. Now we can associate them to a physical system that does not contain gravity, such as a superconductor or some other system made of subatomic particles. And if these systems are interacting strongly enough, they can generate their own spacetime, and then the black holes can exist. 

Natural Sciences

By Juan Maldacena and Douglas Stanford

Black holes are spacetime geometries where the flow of time is distorted in a major way. What type of resource is a pair of entangled black holes? 

Natural Sciences

By Kelly Devine Thomas

In 2012, Ahmed Almheiri, current Member in the School of Natural Sciences, coauthored a paper that confounded theoretical physicists, sparked attention from the New York Times to Scientific American, and prompted the organization of workshops and the publication of dozens of papers around the world.

Historical Studies

By Konrad Schmid

In light of more than two hundred years of scholarship, the most precise answer to this question still is: We don’t know. The tradition claims it was Moses, but the Torah itself says otherwise.

Historical Studies

By Christopher S. Wood

The world is emergent and always unfolding in time. Painting has difficulty representing this kind of time. The portrait tries to do that, paradoxically, by representing the individual fixed in his­torical time. 

Historical Studies

By Myles W. Jackson and Arnold J. Levine

What can the history of science contribute to two controversial aspects of biomedical research: gene patenting, and race and genomics?

Social Science

By Joan Wallach Scott

Some of the reasons usually offered to explain the persistence of gender inequality include large abstractions: patriarchy, capitalism, male self-interest, misogyny, religion. These are, of course, useful categories to work with, but none of them can account for how deep-rooted these inequalities are in our psyches, our cultures, and our politics. 

Natural Sciences

By Freeman J. Dyson

I do not take the Prisoner’s Dilemma seriously as a model of evolution of cooperation. I consider it likely that groups lacking cooperation are like dodoes, losing the battle for survival collectively rather than individually.

Social Science

By Didier Fassin

Cyclical movement of nature and worldly events, biology and biography: these are the two series that make life an entity at once overdetermined in its material dimension and indeterminate in its course . . . Can this binarism be resolved? Is it possible to think of life as biology and life as biography together?

By Myles W. Jackson

My work in the history of science probes the porous boundaries between science and culture over the past two centuries. Much of it gestures toward the role of history in public policy.... We historians are rather good at illustrating that controversies have histories: how we arrived at where we are today is very informative. There have always been, and always will be, alternatives. 

Historical Studies

""

By Kevin W Martin

After seizing power on his own behalf in December 1949, Army Colonel Adib al-Shishakli effectively ruled Syria for much of the next five years, during which he wrought long-term changes in Syria’s political culture and initiated a host of policies and practices subsequently adopted by Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser, Syria’s Hafez al-Assad, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, and other authoritarian rulers.