# Five Problems in Physics without the Definite Article

By Fendley, Paul | Science News, July 18, 2009 | Go to article overview

# Five Problems in Physics without the Definite Article

Fendley, Paul, Science News

In a 2006 book that garnered much press for its silly attacks on string theory, author and physicist Lee Smolin provides a list of "The Five Great Problems in Theoretical Physics." There are many offensive things about this list, starting with the use of the definite article in the title, which implies that people not working on these problems (the majority of theoretical physicists) are working on less-than-great problems. But to me the most offensive thing is that only one of the five problems, I believe, could eventually be resolved by experiment.

Most physicists don't consider a phenomenon to be understood until there are both repeatable experiments displaying it and a quantitative theoretical description. The only physics problems without both aspects are those unrelated to experiment. We have a name for such problems: mathematics.

The book's list, however, did inspire me to come up with my own list. Here are my "Five Great Problems in Theoretical Physics," without the definite article:

1. Explain the dark matter and energy in the universe

This problem is the one of Smolin's five that stands a shot at being resolved in my lifetime. It's actually two related problems. Astronomers have observed that the gravity we theoretically understand does not describe how galaxies rotate--unless there's a lot of matter out there that we don't see. This is known as dark matter. Similarly, at staggeringly long-distance scales, astronomers observe that light is overall not bent, even though gravity does indeed bend light. The only way this is consistent with Newton and Einstein is for the universe to possess a precise energy density. Dark energy is our name for this extra energy. For both dark matter and energy, we need to figure out what this stuff is or we need to figure out how to extend the work of Newton and Einstein.

2. Explain high-temperature superconductivity

Even ignoring possible real-world applications, superconductivity is one of the coolest (literally and figuratively) phenomena in quantum physics. It's hard not to be impressed with experiments that let current flow for years without a battery. We understand theoretically what characterizes a superconductor: Electrons of opposite momentum form an unusual quantum state of zero energy called a Cooper pair. But this long happened only at excruciatingly low temperatures, hard to achieve outside a lab. Thus the physics version of mass hysteria occurred in the late 1980s when materials that super-conduct at high temperatures were found. …

If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes

#### Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

#### Cited article

Five Problems in Physics without the Definite Article
Settings

#### Settings

Typeface
Text size Reset View mode
Search within

Look up

#### Look up a word

• Dictionary
• Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
• Highlights & Notes
• Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

### How to highlight and cite specific passages

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

## Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

## Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

Search by...
Show...

### Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.