My ESOF2012: Day 3

What is the future of the PhD in the 21st Century?

Day three of ESOF2012 started off for me with “What is the future of the PhD in the 21st Century?” Here the speakers expressed how the PhD, while not broken, is not ideal either, often focusing teaching the student for a life in academia. This session aimed to provide possible answers to the problem with PhDs. Michael Lenardo, from the National Institute of Health, started his talk with a good example of how we are surrounded by technology, but often don’t know how/what to use it. Back in the early 1900’s, US President McKinley was shot a number of times in the gut while attending a technology expo. The best surgeons in the US were rush to operate on him, but alas, they couldn’t find all the bullets and he ultimately died. However, only 50 ft away from where the shooting occurred was there one of those new fangled X-Ray machine. He went on to say that as part of PhD training, we need to train people in creative thought.

The State of String Theory

American theoretical physicist and string theorist, Brian Greene at ESOF2012

American theoretical physicist and string theorist, Brian Greene at ESOF2012

The highlight of day three for me had to be the keynote address given by Brian Greene, the US string theorist. Greene gave a fascinating talk, which was designed so that people without a strong physics background could understand, a great example of science communication. This address stated why string theory is needed in light of trying to resolve the issue of general relativity and quantum mechanics. Afterwards he went on to explain that dark energy was the best explanation for why our universe in expanding at an increasing rate, rather than a decreasing one. Finishing with the idea of the multiverse, how “our universe is a single bubble in a bubble bath of universes.”

After lunch I attended Helga Nowotny’s talk “The Usefulnes of Useless Knowledge – And How to Find Uses and Users.” Here Nowotny said that there is really no such things as useless knowledge, just knowledge that people have yet to find a use for. This reminded me of the great TEDed talk given by Adam Savage entitled How Simple Ideas Lead to Scientific Discoveries.

I also attended “Saving Science Education” from kidsINNscience. Things didn’t start of well with the organiser, John Meadows of London South Bank Univeristy stating “…well we can’t.” Humphrey Jones of The Frog Blog details how lacking this talk was in his post “How Not to Save Science Education


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