Nobel awardee pushes research

Sun.Star Cebu, January 12, 2008

A 2004 NOBEL Laureate for Physics did more than promote peace and encourage asking “ignorant but intelligent questions” during his visit to Cebu yesterday.

In his speech, Prof. David Jonathan Gross urged politicians, religious leaders and all other leaders to “start working as a planet” to resolve the alarming depletion of nature’s resources.

While scientific advances have doubled the human lifespan in the past 200 years, the population has also increased to roughly six billion in 2000. Rising global energy consumption points to the probability of an increase of two degrees to eight degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

“This may not seem a lot, but it is. We are already experiencing decreasing water availability, droughts in some areas, too much water in other areas, and increasing wildfires with our current warming,” he told educators and students at the University of San Carlos Technological Center.


An increase of just one degree Celsius by 2020 could mean the extinction of 20 to 30 percent of known species and the bleaching of most corals.

An increase of three degrees could pose a substantial burden to health, while an increase of four degrees would spell the extinction of up to 40 percent of the known
species, among other consequences.

While he admitted that science can and must help, especially in areas such as nanotechnology and solar power, he proffered a different challenge to all leaders.

“We must build an economic and political system that is not dependent on unlimited consumption and growth. We need a better system that must move us towards world government,” said Dr. Gross.

In a separate interview with the press, the physicist said that politicians are not the best administrators of science, especially when severe budget cuts are made for
political reasons. Drastic cuts in government funding are expected to hurt the American and British scientific communities this year.

Open society

Asked whether pure research would remain relevant in societies hobbled by poverty, Dr. Gross emphasized the need for more investments in scientific research, saying that developing nations couldn’t hope to discover and profit from applications if their foundations in science and research are weak.

And there are other rewards as well.

“A healthy scientific culture requires an open society,” he added, and that in turn promotes the open-mindedness and tolerance required for peace.

Another area that the people must be very concerned about is the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which, to Gross’ mind, is hard to eliminate, “especially when most people have forgotten their enormous danger.”

“People are scared of radiation and construction of nuclear plants. But there seems to be no noise against nuclear weapons. My country, America, possesses a lot of these weapons, which are extremely dangerous. People should demand from the government to eliminate them. It’s a scandal that has not yet been dealt with. There is a need to increase the awareness of the general public,” he said.

Gross, together with H. David Politzer and Frank Wilczek, was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize for Physics for discoveries of the nuclear force that binds together the smallest building blocks of matter, or quarks.

He is also one of the pioneers of the string theory, which he said is an ambitious attempt to construct “a unified theory of the beginnings of the universe.”


After four decades in the pursuit and teaching of physics, the professor’s fascination with and passion for the big questions of science were obvious. “How did time start? How did the universe begin? Is it cyclic, or something even wilder?”

Gross is among the 21 Nobel Laureates who support the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation, which initiated and facilitated the event series called “Bridges: Dialogues toward a Culture of Peace.”

The event will be held in different institutions in the country from November 2007 to April 2008, as part of the effort to cross borders, promote peace and build strong relationships.

During his presentation, Dr. Gross pointed out that advances in decoding the human genome point to the fact that we all share the same ancestors and origins.

“It hasn’t quite sunk in how closely we’re all related and what implications that has on human behavior,” said Dr. Gross.

“So, how can we fight each other? We are all related.” (With IDA)

For Bisaya stories from Cebu. Click here.

(January 12, 2008 issue)