Ri Public Lectures 2013

Nature and nature’s laws: how did they come about?

In June 2013, the Royal Institution hosted the first series of public lectures on the theme Nature and Nature’s Laws: How did they come about?, as part of our public outreach strategy.



4th June 2013 - The Nature of Dark Energy and Dark Matter: Are New Laws of Physics required?

 Abstract: What are Dark energy and Dark matter? Why do they seem to compose the majority of the stuff in our Universe at present? Ofer Lahav (University College London) will take us through a fascinating journey through the origin of our Cosmos and unanswered questions arising from the latest observations about our Universe, its constitution, and fundamental laws.

Bio: Ofer Lahav is Perren Professor of Astronomy at University College London.  He also chairs the Science Committee of the International Dark Energy Survey.  Lahav was born in Israel, where he studied for his BSc and MSc.  He received his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1988, where he was later a member of staff until his move to UCL in 2004.  He is currently a holder of an Advanced Grant by the European Research Council for his studies on Dark Energy.

Visit the Ri What’s On guide for details and tickets  (Audio)


11th June 2013 - Is Cosmology Possible as a Science?

Abstract:  What is the scientific status of cosmology?  Skeptics have argued that cosmology is not like other sciences because it deals with a unique object, the universe as a whole.  Yet it is hard to deny that cosmology has made enormous progress.  Chris Smeenk (The Rotman Institute of Philosophy, University of Western Ontario) will explore the philosophical debate regarding the nature of cosmology, and look to open, pressing philosophical questions posed by current theories.

Bio: I arrived at Yale University intending to study physics.  I was drawn to physics because physicists had obviously been so successful in discovering a great deal about nature, but also because modern physics is so strikingly creative and counterintuitive.  I discovered philosophy after enrolling in an intensive humanities program, and I pursued a combined major in physics and philosophy.  I enjoyed this combination of subjects so much that I decided to pursue graduate study at the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science.  While at Pittsburgh, I continued to study physics, focusing in particular on general relativity and modern cosmology.  My dissertation is a historical and philosophical study of the development of early universe cosmology. This has continued to be a major focus of my research, but I also have worked on topics ranging from Newton’s natural philosophy to the nature of time in general relativity. The common thread tying together all of this work is an interest in both what specific physical theories say about the world, and how we should justify and evaluate these theories.  After leaving Pittsburgh, I held a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Dibner Institute (affiliated with MIT).  I was then an assistant professor of philosophy for four years at UCLA beforeaccepting a position at University of Western Ontario in 2007.

Visit the Ri What’s On guide for details and tickets  (Audio)


18th June 2013 - Capturing Reality with Fictional Models

Abstract: Are scientific models ‘fictions’? And how can fictional models provide us with knowledge of the physical world?  Interestingly, the development of electromagnetism by Faraday and Maxwell had its origins in a purely fictional model. Margaret Morrison (University of Toronto) explores how fictional models in physics may function as a source of information, and how they differ from their literary counterparts.

Bio: Margaret Morrison is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.  She is a fellow of the German National Academy of Sciences and  prior to coming to Toronto taught at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota.  Her work focuses on history and philosophy of physics, particularly the 19th century to the present.  She has also written on the contributions of R.A.  Fisher and Karl Pearson to Darwinism and genetics.  Her books include Unifying Scientific Theories: Physical Concepts and Mathematical Structures (2000, CUP) and Models as Mediators (ed. with Mary Morgan) (1999, CUP).

Visit the Ri What’s On guide for details and tickets  (Audio)