Roads to RealityA series of meetings with scientists

Meetings with scientists are more than just an opportunity to broaden our horizons and learn about the latest research. These encounters with people who have dedicated their lives to the passion of exploring the principles by which our reality works are above all an opportunity to learn about their background and what drives them. They offer a chance to engage in discussion, to ask questions and satisfy our curiosity, and to share opinions when new discoveries are changing the way we live. Science shapes us and our future. It’s worth meeting those who create it.

Meetings with scientists inspired by Roger Penrose’s book “The Road to Reality”
8 October – 19 November
every Thursday at 19.00
FREE ADMISSION to all meetings except final lecture on 19 November, where REGISTRATION is necessary.

All lectures are conducted in Polish (only lecture of Roger Penrose in English).

Before each lecture there will be current news from the world of science: “What’s New in the Universe?” by Marek Abramowicz
Hosting the series of meetings will be Irena Cieślińska

Prof. dr hab. Marek Abramowicz
An astrophysicist working with relativity theory, black holes, and the theory of star equilibrium shapes. Head of the Department of Astrophysics at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg and working as a visiting professor at the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. He is a member of the jury for the FameLab science communication competition.
“What’s new in the Universe?”
During the “Roads to Reality” series Professor Abramowicz will be presenting an article on astrophysics from the week preceding each meeting. The title of these appearances – “What’s New in the Universe?” – refers back to a group of interviews with the most prominent American astronomers that were published in 1978 in Playboy magazine, which Prof. Abramowicz subscribed to while at Stanford University in the US. For a few months after his return to Poland, those issues of Playboy – strictly forbidden at that time – were held in the collections of the library of the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre of the Academy of Sciences, sitting on the shelf next to the latest editions of such illustrious journals as Nature, The Astrophysical Journal, and Monthly Notices of the Royal Society…

Irena Cieślińska
Deputy director of the Copernicus Science Centre, journalist, and science communicator. Editor of many popular-science magazines. In 2001-2005 she worked as editor-in-chief of the monthly popular-science magazine Wiedza i Życie. She has eleven years of teaching and research experience gained while working at the Department of Mathematical Methods in the Faculty of Physics, University of Warsaw. She has worked at the Copernicus Science Centre since 2006. She serves on the jury for the FameLab science communication competition.

8 October

Calculus Leszek Pacholski
Kepler’s laws Weronika Śliwa

„Calculus”

It all started with Newton. The anecdote about the apple is world famous, and some may remember the laws of motion from school. Isaac Newton laid the foundations of today’s science of light and movement, and also made a contribution to the UK tax system. Although he considered himself to be an alchemist, we now treat him as one of the first physicists. Albert Einstein showed that many of the elements of optics and mechanics systematised by his British predecessor required adjustment. However, there is one component of Newton’s work without which there would be no modern science. Each person starting their adventure in modern physics and technology needs to learn the basics of differential and integral calculus. It’s one of the most widely used computational tools. Its Latin name calculus means a piece of stone used in ancient times to count or vote. When an engineer estimates the consumption of heat in the building, he or she is trying to solve a diffusion equation. When an astrophysicist analyses the spectrums of distant stars, he or she struggles with the equations of reflection and absorption of various types of radiation. Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibnitz published key works in this field almost simultaneously. Newton showed how to use it to describe physical phenomena. Leibnitz proposed the notation we use today. And so, we will start this journey to reality on a carousel of sorts. There will be strange loops, speed, and acceleration. And somewhere among them perhaps we’ll discover gravity…

prof. dr hab. Leszek Pacholski
Professor of mathematical sciences, computer science and logic. His research extends to logic in computer science (model theory, set constraints, equations between terms, zero-one laws, logic with two variables) and programming logic and the theory of programming languages (statistical analysis, types, security). Winner of the International Stefan Banach Prize, the Jurzykowski Foundation Award, awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. In 2005-2008 he was rector of the University of Wroclaw.

Kepler’s laws

Space is also an important frontier for the laws of physics. What is difficult to grasp on the global scale can easily be seen in space. Newtonian mechanics would not have been accepted without astronomical measurements. It was similar in the case of Einstein, when Arthur Eddington’s observations (on light, the Sun, and Mercury) led to widespread acceptance of the new theory. Johannes Kepler proposed four laws describing the motion of the planets. Although they coincided with what had been observed by Tycho Brahe, it was Kepler who derived them, relying on geometry and kinematics, without an analysis of gravity. Instead of universal gravity, Kepler – as a religious man – looked for a spiritual interaction amongst the planets. This didn’t satisfy Newton. He showed that it was not the Holy Spirit but gravity that was responsible for the trajectories of the planets. Despite this difference Kepler’s laws have become a classic illustration of Newtonian dynamics. While remaining aware of these simplifications, it is worth noting that today Kepler’s laws are still used to estimate movement solutions in orbits around the Sun. Without them it would be difficult to imagine landing on the Moon, the journeys of the Mars rovers, and the flights of space probes.

dr Weronika Śliwa
Doctor of astronomy, and an enthusiast of cosmology and the history of exploring the Universe. Author of articles popularizing astronomy, including as editor of Wiedza i Życie. Co-author of a series of textbooks on physics and astronomy for middle and secondary schools. Head of the Heavens of Copernicus planetarium at the Copernicus Science Centre.

 

15 October

The Imaginary Realm Andrzej Schinzel
Quantum Entanglement Arkadiusz Orłowski

The Imaginary Realm

Mathematics is one of the most important tools in physics. Numbers, theorems and formulas help in understanding and changing the world around us. We can of course argue about whether the beauty and utility of mathematics are the products of people, or exist independently of us. The same disputes were waged by physicists and mathematicians at the turn of the 20th century, when most of the problems of classical physics had already been well described.
The trouble begins when physical observations lead to paradoxical conclusions from the mathematical perspective. How should we deal with a situation where the solution to a technical problem is a square equal to a negative number? Generally, this means that the theorist or inventor of the measuring apparatus has made a mistake. Sometimes, however, what seems absurd is the correct solution. In time, a hidden beauty can be discovered even in things that seem counterintuitive and contrary to common sense.
So it is with imaginary numbers. What for mathematicians was controversial, theoretical physicists accepted as a useful tool. From there they then moved to the field of technology to help in the analysis of electrical circuits. And so imaginary numbers have very real consequences.

Prof. dr hab. Andrzej Schinzel
Mathematician, considered the world’s top specialist in the field of polynomial factorisation. His research areas include: analytic number theory, algebraic number theory, Diophantine equations, and the geometry of numbers. He works at the Institute of Mathematics of the Polish Academy of Sciences. For 40 years he was editor of Acta Arithmetica – a mathematical journal founded in Warsaw in 1935. He has been awarded the Stefan Banach Medal, the Knight’s Cross and Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, and the National Education Commission Medal.

Quantum Entanglement

Imaginary numbers are not the only example of how our intuition cannot cope with physical reality. Let’s leave the problems of relativity aside for a moment and move to the quantum level. We’ll see that a real tangle of paradoxes still lies in store for us . How else can we explain the fact that we can find out about a given particle’s parameters just by looking at another particle a few kilometres away?
And as in the case of imaginary numbers, physical paradoxes may have real repercussions even for the layman. When we use ever-smaller mobile phones or increasingly more accurate medical equipment, we are benefitting from the progress that has been made in disentangling the theoretical intricacies of quantum entanglements. The study of quanta is not only influencing our understanding of ever-smaller fragments of reality, it is also helping us better understand astrophysical processes such as the solar wind or phenomena that occur in the vacuum of space. Elements of reality, both the largest and the smallest, must observe the same laws of physics. Maybe it’s true, therefore, that the paradoxes of the quantum world are merely paradoxes in our construal of reality? Perhaps quantum entanglement holds the key to the design of new kinds of computers or encryption mechanisms?

Assoc. Prof. Arkadiusz Orłowski
Physicist and computer scientist, dean of the Faculty of Applied Informatics and Mathematics and Director of Multimedia Education Centre at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences. Current research interests include quantum computing, artificial intelligence, the physics of information, image analysis, and data security.
He spends a great deal of time on science communication in the press, on radio, and television. He has co-introduced more than 50 episodes of the television program “Symulator Faktu”. For many of them he also wrote the scripts. He serves on the jury for the FameLab science communication competition.

22 October

Geometry Michał Heller
Theory of relativity Marek Demiański

„Geometry”

As far back as ancient times, geometry had a special status. In Plato’s Academy it was not part of mathematics, but a separate discipline. The beauty of geometry – like the beauty of musical harmony – was separated from arithmetic.
The scientific breakthrough that came at the turn of the 19th and 20 centuries provided a foundation for unusual geometries. Of course, sailors had already suspected that marking routes on the surface of a sphere requires mathematical tools that Plato would reject with disgust. But it was only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that mathematicians showed that there are several different geometries, each of which was as internally consistent as “traditional geometry”.
Parallel straight lines, triangles, angles – all these well-known objects began to take on new meanings. And the laws of geometry differ from each other in terms of their initial axioms.

Fr. Prof. Michał Heller
Physicist, theologian, and professor of philosophy specializing in natural philosophy, relativistic cosmology, and science-faith relations. In 2008 he was awarded the Templeton Prize, awarded for building bridges between science and religion. In his scientific work he supports the eidetic character of empirical science and maths, according to which physical and social phenomena can be reduced to mathematics. He is the author of dozens of scholarly and popular books. Founder and director of the Copernicus Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies.

„Theory of relativity”

The two theories of relativity are easier to understand when we realize that their “scientific growing pains” came at the same time as the heated debates on different geometries. Since differing geometries can be understood relatively, why not do the same with light and time? But to see this and justify it theoretically, we needed Einstein.
As in the case of the debates on geometry, the theories of relativity were something more than just scientific discoveries. They changed our way of looking at the world, and what had been stable certainties of our reality became part of a bigger puzzle. The two breakthroughs (mathematical and physical) led to the development of astrophysics, electronics, and new forms of communication.

prof. dr hab. Marek Demiański
Physicist and astronomer specializing in relativistic astrophysics, theoretical physics, and cosmology. Since 1962 he has worked at the Institute of Theoretical Physics, Department of Physics, University of Warsaw. He was the “co-principal investigator” of two European consortia preparing the Planck satellite mission. The author of many accessible articles and guest on radio and television programmes, he gives lectures and hosts popular-science discussions.

29 October

Probability Jerzy Kijowski
Entropy Robert Hołyst

„Probability”

The development of quantum mechanics led to a series of paradoxes associated with probability. Einstein never accepted some of the conclusions of quantum mechanics. He famously said, “God does not play dice”. At the end of his life he was trying to reconcile the theories of relativity with quantum physics. He failed. To this day, thousands of physicists are trying to do just that.
But probability is not just about physics or gambling. Genetic and climatological research also involves struggles with statistics – the genes in a species or the water droplets in a cloud are too numerous to be able to be analysed equally thoroughly. Perhaps all of today’s life sciences are suspended between the accuracy of theoretical models and simplifications without which it is difficult to predict anything. In the end, everything can be analysed using the language of mathematics. A significant number of these analyses are probably important.

Prof. dr hab. Jerzy Kijowski
He works at the Centre for Theoretical Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences. His research areas include: differential geometry, analysing the measurement of time in quantum mechanics, geometric quantization. Winner of the Young Polish Mathematical Society Prize, the Stanisław Zaremba Prize, and the Humboldt Foundation Scholarship.

„Entropy”

Adventures involving nature, people and probabilities are much older than Einstein’s theories. In the 19th century, when the development of steam and fuel technology set new challenges for science, Rudolf Clausius introduced the concept of entropy. This was initially a part of the description of engineering processes, but quickly became a key concept in physics. As a measure of chaos in a system and an indicator of the direction of spontaneous change, entropy has become a major scientific and technical challenge. Entropy is important in physics and engineering, and it also indicates the course of many chemical and biological processes.
We seek entropy when we want to describe the aging of stars, cells, and technical equipment. And although the concept itself is over a hundred years old, it still surprises physicists. We have to reorganize much of what we know about entropy when we examine the world on the quantum or astrophysical scales. Problems in entropy have also led to new conceptualizations of complexity theory, enabling us to look differently at chemistry and biology.
But entropy can also be interpreted as a philosophical or religious problem. Change in entropy shows us the direction of the passage of time, and so directs our thoughts toward transience and instability. But the favouring of one direction in space-time (the arrow of time) is also a fascinating puzzle in theoretical physics.

prof. dr hab. Robert Hołyst
He graduated in theoretical physics at the University of Warsaw. He conducts research at the interface of static physics, material chemistry, and cell biology, both theoretically and experimentally. He works at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences, of which he was director in 2011-2015. He has patented more than 30 inventions, co-founded 3 high-tech companies, and co-authored 220 publications.

5 November

Symmetry Stanisław Woronowicz
The Standard Model Krzysztof Meissner

„Symmetry”

Some ancient scholars saw the aesthetic beauty of a physical concept as a measure of its correctness. The laws of geometry, including symmetry, were also used to assess the ideas of algebra, musical harmony, and architecture. To this day, many of the classic theories of beauty imply some sort of symmetry between several components.
But for physicists, symmetry has several other faces. Using mathematical representations of symmetry and other mathematical theorems, Emily Noether proposed a theorem based on which we can draw conclusions about the principles of conservation of energy, momentum, and other parameters. Rules of behaviour are the foundations on which we build experimental physics.
Of course, what once seemed permanent (e.g. the rate of the passage of time), can also be put up for discussion. To do so, however, you must have geniuses of the likes of Einstein and very strong experimental evidence. 

prof. dr hab. Stanisław Woronowicz
Mathematician and physicist, professor of physical sciences, lecturer at the University of Warsaw. For over 20 years he has been working on the theory of quantum groups, author of the first work on the subject. Honoured with the Foundation for Polish Science Prize, the Humboldt Research Award, and the Stefan Banach Medal. As he says, “It’s a mystery why what is beautiful in mathematics and is developed for this beauty, sooner or later turns out to be of interest to physicists.”

„The Standard Model”

The emergence of both theories of relativity and quantum mechanics initiated a series of changes in physics and has led to the development of astrophysics, nuclear physics, and particle physics. It sometimes happens that specialists from these various spheres are not always able to find a common language, even though they are investigating the same reality. Many of them have one dream in common – to find a Unified Theory.
The Standard Model is a step in this direction. It attempts to combine three of the four fundamental physical interactions (electromagnetism, the weak force, and the strong force). The Standard Model also provides tools for classifying the elementary particles discovered and predicting the existence of new ones (e.g. the Higgs boson). It also has its secrets, such as the possible existence of dark matter, and neutrino mass. Nor do we know whether the mechanisms associated with certain types of symmetry are real.
Although it doesn’t cover every aspect of the reality we know, and although we have many questions and doubts about it, the Standard Model is an important step on the road to reality. At least for now…

prof. dr hab. Krzysztof Meissner
A theoretical physicist and a specialist in the theory of elementary particles. He works in the Department of Theory of Elementary Particles and Interactions at the Institute of Theoretical Physics, Faculty of Physics, University of Warsaw. He participates in research at CERN.
He has been awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of the Polonia Restituta for outstanding achievements in research work in physics, and for his achievements in science communication.

12 November

Infinity Witold Sadowski
Big Bang Stanisław Bajtlik

„Infinity”

Infinities are an important part of theoretical physics. Sometimes they are a problem hindering the solution of an equation. Sometimes they become a tool without which another equation could not be solved. When students are educated in physics, they learn how to deal with infinities, and see their variety and applications. Sometimes the most interesting things happen at the ends of the scale, with phenomena at the nano-world or astrophysics. Every time we discover a new elementary particle, we hope that this is the end, and that we can finally create a Theory of Everything. But infinity turns out to be infinitely small. And so in elements we discover atoms, in atoms – protons and electrons, and in protons and electrons – quarks and gluons.
Infinity is not only a challenge for empirical research on reality, but also an intriguing and beautiful part of mathematics. Sometimes frightening, when it turns out that a given mathematical structure is infinite. Sometimes comforting, because it gives room for additional mathematical operations. Different varieties of infinity are also important in statistics, geometry, and differential calculus. We do not know whether the Universe and human stupidity are actually infinite; we only know that without infinity we cannot examine any of these phenomena.

Asst. Prof. Witold Sadowski
Mathematician, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Physics Equations at the University of Warsaw. For many years he was editor of the mathematical monthly journal Delta. Author of numerous popular-science articles and award-winning in a national competition for the book Femme fatale. Trzy opowieści o królowej nauk [Femme fatale: Three stories about the queen of sciences] (2000).

„Big Bang”

Infinity is not only about large dimensions. Sometimes it also meant a tiny space and tiny moments, back when nothing in space-time was yet certain. Thanks to theoretical physics and astrophysics we can peer ever farther back into the past of the Universe, trying to determine which elements of physics were present at the beginning. The search for the origins of the Universe is not just theoretical speculation. Because the Universe is huge, radiation associated with its onset constantly reaches us. Analysing such microwave radiation, we can see whether we’ve lost our way on the road to reality. Signals of this kind are very weak, so the easiest way to explore them is using satellite measurements. By analysing the data collected, we come upon the track of dark matter and many other puzzles. This is where we are looking for the sources of individual elements and elementary particles. In these studies, the latest discoveries in particle physics are confronted with the laws of thermodynamics, known in physics for over a hundred years. According to some theoretical models, not all known physical constants were the same at different stages of the Big Bang. According to others, the explosion was just one stage in the cyclical expansion and collapse of the universe.

dr Stanisław Bajtlik
Astrophysicist and employee at the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. Author of scientific papers in the fields of cosmology, relativity, and astrophysics. He is engaged in science communication – the author of articles, and popular-science radio and television programmes (in 2005-2007 along with Arkadiusz Orłowski he co-hosted the programme “Symulator Faktu”), and the book “Cosmic alphabet”. Winner of the Science Populariser competition, awarded the Krzysztof Ernst Polish Physical Society Medal and Prize.

19 November

The reality of the supernatural and the physical world in the mystical vision of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite Maria Dzielska
Reality Roger Penrose

„The reality of the supernatural and the physical world in the mystical vision of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite”

Many of the physical concepts we have been talking about in this series have their source in ancient Greece. This lecture is dedicated to the vision of the supernatural world created by the mysterious mystic Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.

prof. dr hab. Maria Dzielska
Historian and classical philologist, translator of source texts, specializing in the history of late-ancient Rome and early Byzantium. She works at the Institute of History at the Jagiellonian University. She conducts research on pagan and Christian intellectuals of the late Hellenistic period, philosophical thought, and political and religious systems in Late Antiquity. She popularizes the culture of classical antiquity in television programmes.

„Reality”

There have been several miraculous moments in the discovery of physics. Theorists appreciate the feeling when they realize that a given problem can be solved in an elegant and precise fashion, without approximations and numerical simulations. Experimentalists – the moment when statistical verification confirms the results of their first hopes. In a series of physical symbols, in columns of results, for a moment a fragment of reality becomes visible. And then the moment of verification comes again, checking results and asking more questions.
But there is one more moment of delight, equally valuable for some scientists. This is the moment when results from the laboratory begin to work outside it. When it turns out that the theory of relativity is ideally suited to explaining gaps in GPS systems. When quantum physics answers questions chemistry and helps design the transistor. New inventions change reality and allow us to ask further questions. And take another step towards reality.

Sir Roger Penrose
British theoretical physicist and mathematician. His major research interests include the theory of gravity and the theory of space-time, and considerations on consciousness. He has also had a significant impact on the physics of black holes, the mathematical description of a surface (i.e. Penrose tessellation) and the philosophy of science and the popularization of physics. His most important books are The Emperor’s New Mind (on the theory of consciousness) and The Road to Reality (a synthesis of the current state of physical theories).

When?

8, 15, 22, 29 October
5, 12, 19 November

at 7 p.m.

FREE ENTRY
to all meetings except final lecture on 19 November,
for which REGISTRATION
is necessary