Dr. Lisa Randall works at the edge of human knowledge, between our three-dimensional world and the world of multiple dimensions. She arrived at the edge seeking an explanation for a gravitational mystery. Why is gravity so weak?
The times I've found myself tumbling down a ski slope, carrying a heavy load, or watching the earth coming at me fast after jumping out of a plane, the weakness of gravity never came to mind. I felt that its strength could crush or kill me. But it turns out that physicists look at strength at small scales, very small—atomic and subatomic—scales. There, gravity is a very weak player, getting aced out by electromagnetism and the strong and weak forces. Professor Randall, and other physicists, wonder why these forces are not all the same strength.
She and a colleague proposed the Randall-Sundrum model. In a nutshell, our three-dimensional world exists in a higher-dimension universe that has a warped geometry. What do these other dimensions look like? Although Dr. Randall agrees that we can’t picture them, she says “The fact you can’t picture them doesn’t mean that you can’t imagine them or derive them mathematically.” (Interview with Charlie Rose) To understand unseen dimensions, she suggests reading Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Edwin Abbott’s classic novel describes a two-dimensional world and how three-dimensional objects would appear to the inhabitants of that world.
In the extra dimensions Dr. Randall proposes, gravity would be a stronger force. One possible scenario is that gravity has its own sort of area—in physics lingo, a brane (from membrane)—where it is very strong. But in our area (a different brane), gravity “leaks in” and is weak. Her research may sound like science fiction, but science, she says, is much more interesting than fiction. If her theory pans out, it will revolutionize our thinking about time and space.
Dr. Randall says her fascination with particle physics was an evolution. As a child, she enjoyed math problems because they had definite answers. In high school she found she liked physics, even though no one in her family was particularly physics-oriented nor did she have role models. Science itself fascinated her.
Her research has reached beyond the community of Physics scholars. Composer Hèctor Parra was so taken with Professor Randall’s work that he asked her to write the libretto for an opera--Hypermusic Prologue: A Projective Opera in Seven Planes. Opera in the Fifth Dimension gives a good overview of the story. The soprano is willing to explore other dimensions and eventually experiences the unification of the four forces of nature. The baritone clings to the standard theory until he has a brief brush with another dimension. Then he is convinced. The composer uses electronics to achieve time-warping vocal effects, which results in a quite wild, avant garde sound.