Friday, March 28, 2008

Math meets Physics

I dropped by a interesting symposium yesterday at SUNY Stony Brook (a university near to Brookhaven, that is the academic partner of BSA, our management company), "The Stony Brook Dialogues in Mathematics and Physics: A Symposium in Honor of Chen Ning Yang and James H. Simons". It had a varied and interesting set of talks (none online yet, though) exploring the connections between mathematics and physics, by colleagues and friends of CN Yang (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1957, when Yang was 35[!]) and Jim Simons (former Chair of the USB Math department, and current president of Renaissance Technologies). That is to say, it was the highest wattage I've seen in a meeting in quite a while, with luminaries from pure math to string theory. And even speaking as an experimental physicist, albeit as one with a still-unread copy of Nakahara's "Geometry, Topology and Physics" on his office shelf, I found the talks quite fascinating. It was also a nice reminder that Simons is funding a major $60M center for Geometry and Physics at Stony Brook.

One forgets that mathematicans and physicists tend to discover and rediscover major findings in the other's territories, so it was nice to see a collegial set of friends reminiscing on some notable examples -- my favorite one being how the topology of 4 dimensional spaces can be determined using methods devised in the context of Yang-Mills field theories, while that of 3 dimensional spaces is done similarly, but using Chern-Simons theories. Of course, mere mortals like me have no way to put this to use, but you just never know when these things will reappear as something relevant to one's science.

I also took a few photos with my phone camera before the battery gave up: here's Cumrum Vafa's talk on "Strings on Geometry", which was illuminating, and animated.

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