Brian Greene explains why science matters during Atkinson lecture

by University Communications,

While visiting a second-grade classroom, Brian Greene asked one, simple question: “How does three go into six?”

That’s when a student bolted to the board, drew a large six and wrote a tiny three inside of it. Although it wasn’t the answer Greene expected, he says unbridled enthusiasm is a trait every scientist needs.

“(A scientist is) somebody who will just go for it, not trying to give an answer that’s expected, not worrying about being wrong — just unabashedly going forward and trying to figure something out,” he says.

Greene, one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists, was the featured presenter at Willamette University’s Atkinson Lecture Series Nov. 14.

Through the series, internationally prominent leaders, artists, authors and journalists are brought to campus twice a year to give a public lecture and spend time with Willamette students.

During his sold-out talk, “Why Science Matters,” Greene explained how scientists’ curiosity and fearlessness have led to some of the biggest discoveries about space and time — such as black holes and the revelation that the universe is expanding.

“Science matters because these ideas of science help us to truly understand who we are and what this cosmos is about,” he says. “The journey of science is from the familiar to the unfamiliar, the comfortable to the uncomfortable, the prosaic to the rich and exciting.”

Greene is the author of New York Times Best Sellers “The Elegant Universe,” “The Fabric of the Cosmos,” and “The Hidden Reality.” He is also a string theorist who argues that tiny strands of energy vibrating in 11 dimensions create every particle and force in the universe.

Described by The Washington Post as “the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today,” Greene also hosted an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning television series based on one of his three books.

During his visit to Willamette, he spoke with a class of physicist majors about his work and answered their questions about Quantum mechanics and string theory.

Hearing him speak, says Jay Howard ’15, was an unforgettable experience.

“I think it’s fantastic. To me, this is so far beyond what I expected to have for an Atkinson lecture,” Howard says. “It’s really nice to see someone so prolific, with so much cultural significance, here at Willamette.”

The next Atkinson lecturer, author and poet Sherman Alexie, will visit Willamette March 11.