The Fabric of the Universe


An overview of the boundaries of physical science by an experimental physicist.

The Exploratorium was founded as a museum of science, art, and human perception.

Observation is an important part of science and yet it is seldom taught in science courses. Many examples of poor science arise because people honestly report what they see, and yet their reports are flawed because they do not understand how their visual system can be fooled. Understanding perception is necessary to help us understand how there can be so many incorrect pseudoscientific reports in the media.

1. What is science?
            Keynote 1 Introduction

Paul Doherty Teaches Geshes
Paul Doherty meets a class of 18 Geshes. (The Buddist equivalent of a PhD)

            Keynote 1 What is Science
            An experimental physicist’s view.

Monk String
What do you see? Look at a string. You will see 2 strings, they may make an X, a V, or be parallel.  What is real?

monk blink 2monk blink 1
Find the origin of the 2 strings, blink one eye closed and then the other. Each eye sees one string.

String between two monks
If two monks hold a string between them they each see a V shape with 2 strings, because they focus on each thers face.

Nun finger guide
One of the geshes looks at a finger and notices that he sees two strin s making an X which crosses near her finger. Then she moves her finger to a different distance and the crossing point changes.

Look at a gray step postcard, if you cover the boundary it looks like one gray rectangle.

gray step monk
The monks immediately tried experiments like covering 1/2 of the edge.

peropheral vision
Looking at the finger you cannot read the letter on the white card until it is very close to the finger. This exhibit is named peripheral vision.

See Retina blood supply
Move a small dim point of light below your eye and you will see the blood supply pattern in front of your retina.


Find The Rays
A small bright point of light , we made it with an uncapped minimag light, will be surrounded by rays of light. Tese rays do not exist around the light but only in your eye. Your brain imagines them as being around the light.

Block the light the rays vanish
If you cover the light with your thumb the rays vanish. even though before you covered the light, the rays spread far beyond your thumb.

Rays pass through a black card
Hold a black card beside the light and the rays penetrate right through the card.

diffraction around a hair
Hold a hair strtched vertically in front of your eye, bertween you and a small light source, and you will see the light diffract to the side of the hair. Patterns on the cornea cause the light to spread into lines on your retina which you see as rays.

By moving an uncapped minimag light around you can make 3 dimensional afterimages that look like balls of wire.

look through your wrist
Tenzin Lhadron shows me how to look through my wrist.


This triggered a discussion of perception and reality.

2. Conservation of energy.

What is temperature?


line up by hand temperature
Line the monks up by hand temperature.

shake hand temperature
The person with the coldest hand and the wormest hand shakes hands with everyone.



2. What is Light
            Keynote 2 What is Light, A history
            A historical approach illustrating how the ideas of science change.
            Newton: Particle
            Huygens: Wave
            Thomas Young Wave
            August Fresnel Wave
            Einstein quantized wave
            Scrodinger quantized wave
            Feynman Quantum electrodynamics

3. The size of things
            Powers of 10
            Distance, time, temperature, mass, put them on a line

4. The Mass-Radius Diagram

            The Mass-Radius diagram as a map of scientific limits
                        Galactic clusters

                        Protons neutrons
            Looking out in space is looking back in time.
            Mass is energy.
            Objects with no size electrons
            Hypothetical strings
            zero rest mass objects light.

5. What is the universe made of?
            Particles  fermions
                        All the world is made of atoms
                        Atoms are made of protons neutrons and electrons
                        Muons and Taus
                        Protons neutrons and mesons are made of quarks
            Forces and their boson particles
                        Gravity,  gravitons and black holes
                        electricity and magnetism,  photons
                        strong  nuclear, gluons
                        weak nuclear, W and Z bosons


6. Relativity
            Space, Time Spacetime
            The speed of light
            Some “things” can go faster than light, but not things that carry information.
            E = mc^2
            Mass changes the rate that clocks run.
            Mass changes distance intervals in a vacuum.
            The expansion of the universe in space and time.

7. Quantum mechanics
            Particles and waves
            Uncertainty principle
            Scroedinger’s cat


8. MR diagram Again
            Putting it all together: plot objects in the universe on a graph of mass versus radius
            The edge of the universe
            The event horizon of  black holes
            Compton wavelength
            Quantum black holes and the planck length
            The planck time
            Is the universe a black hole?


Scientific Explorations with Paul Doherty

© 2011

18 October 2011