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.
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.
Baron Bourgain is one of the most original, penetrating, and versatile analytical minds of our troubled times, justly celebrated and revered without reservations.
I met Jean in September 2005, six months after my daughter was born, while visiting IAS... I do not remember the precise date but do remember the hour: it was between 2 and 3 a.m. 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.
On April 10, 2019, we were presented with the first-ever close-up image of a black hole by the Event Horizon Telescope ... But did we really “see” a black hole when we were shown “just” a digital image?
From the perspective of gravity, [a black hole] is the simplest object we know of, no more than a hole in space. At the same time, according to quantum theory, it is the most complex object, the most compact way to store matter and information.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’re in pursuit of the invisible: mapping the elusive magnetic field between the stars. And the better we understand the magnetized interstellar medium, the better we will be able to peer back to the beginning of time.
The unceasing attacks on Mormonism, and the specific terms in which they were prosecuted, bring into exceptional focus a contrary rendering of secularism as, rather, a "normative sociality" and "disciplinary structure," one intimately involved in the harnessing of the terrain of ritual, practice, belief, and spirit to the imperatives of a settler colonial empire coming to understand itself more and more entirely in the framework of a redemptive liberalism.
On April 26, the Institute celebrated the life and work of Irving Lavin with an all-day event that began with a series of scholarly discussions in the morning, followed in the afternoon by personal remembrances from friends and colleagues, including architects Frank Gehry and Phyllis Lambert.
The Institute’s endeavors to support individuals hampered in their work by political obstacles has extended not only to endangered scholars but to scholars confronting structural forms of bias—including bias that is gender-, race-, class-, and geography-based—and who are for this reason at risk of exclusion from the pursuit of knowledge.
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.
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.
The Institute Letter interviews Juan Maldacena on quantum information, spacetime, and efforts to understand how the view of black holes as a quantum computer is consistent and compatible with black holes from Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
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.
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.
I think there is no better introduction to Kelly’s work than his earlier years in Paris, especially when it comes to understanding why things that look apparently very simple are in fact much more complex than they seem.
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.
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. I am interested in having the historian at the table while a scientific controversy is ongoing. 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.
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?
"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.
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.
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.
Locally symmetric spaces are the home of the Langlands program—a set of overarching and interconnected conjectures connecting representation theory to number theory, first proposed in 1967 by Robert Langlands, now Professor Emeritus in the School of Mathematics.
There is an obvious playfulness in the way Picasso constantly shifted his artistic identity when least expected—and the title of the show, “Picasso Harlequin,” was meant to reflect that: he was like Harlequin, a character with whom he identified all his life and of whom he drew and painted many versions in various, often incompatible, styles.
In 1987, in my third year as a graduate student in anthropology, I arrived in the small California town of Livermore, host to one of two nuclear weapons design laboratories in the United States. . . . intent on understanding the culture of the scientists, mainly physicists, who worked on the most powerful weapons on Earth.
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.