Leaving string theory in knots


SMALL PRINT:MOST OF us curse knots – in our shoe laces, in long tresses, in our ties and in streams of traffic. But some people celebrate them, studying them with delight and disecting them with a startling intensity.

Prof Witten comes to Dublin next month to deliver a free public lecture jointly organised by the Royal Irish Academy and The Irish Times.The annual Hamilton Lecture celebrates the life and work of William Rowan Hamilton, reckoned to be Ireland’s greatest mathemat- ician and scientist.

Witten is based at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He began his university studies as a historian and had aspirations to become a journalist but he finished up with a doctorate in physics.

Clearly, he never looked back and now ranks as a world leader in research into something called “string theory”. He is also the only physicist to have won a Field Medal. This major international award is likened to a Nobel Prize, given Nobel did not see fit to honour mathematics with one of his prizes.

Witten’s Hamilton Lecture will abandon string theory, however, in favour of knots, with a talk entitled: The Quantum Theory of Knots.

Witten describes knot theory as being able to delve into the deep recesses of mathematical research but also as something that can be explained in “down-to- earth terms that everyone can understand”.

Prof Witten’s talk takes place on Monday, October 17th at 7.30pm in the Burke Theatre, TCD Arts Block. Places are free but must be booked to guarantee space. Bookings can be made by visiting the Royal Irish Academy website, ria.ie