Philosophical Society of Washington

Physics in the 20th Century

Curt Suplee
National Science Foundation

2135 th Meeting Abstract
Friday, October 26, 2001 at 8:15 PM


It has become fashionable in some quarters to assert that "the end of physics" is in sight.

Indeed, a plausible argument can be made that the kinds of entities that physics is now poised to investigate are either so weird (axions, supersymmetric particles), so tenuous (quantum fluctuations, gravity waves, dark matter) or so small (superstrings) that it will be virtually impossible to continue research in this century at the pace or on the scale of the 1900s.

Fortunately, history provides ample reason for optimism. Scientists in the 20th century faced similarly pessimistic criticisms, and problems that seemed equally impossible. We will examine five apparently intractable cases from the past century, and how they were resolved. And then we'll take a look at five frontier research areas for the present century and the ways physicists hope to explore them.

About the Author:

Curt Suplee is the Director of Legislative and Public Affairs for the National Science Foundation. Before coming to NSF, he spent 25 years at The Washington Post, serving as science editor and writer. He is the author of three books, including Physics in the 20th Century (1999) and has won numerous national prizes. These include the AAAS Science Writing Award, the American Chemical Society's Grady-Stack Award for Communicating Chemistry to the General Public, and the American Astronomical Society's Award for Popular Writing on Solar Physics. He has written for magazines as diverse as Harper's, Smithsonian and Vogue, and is a frequent contributor to National Geographic.

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