Jim Gates on Space

  • By David Levin
  • Posted 11.10.11
  • NOVA

Physicist Jim Gates says that even if you took all the matter out of the universe, space still wouldn't be empty.



Posted: November 10, 2011

There's a disconnect between my experience of space—walking around rooms and getting in cars and airplanes—and my thinking about the nature of space and the mathematics I do, trying to steady the universe in which I live. The biggest disconnect? Well, for me the biggest disconnect is why something that seemingly is so simple is, in fact, rather complicated.

So, for example, my hands here are sort of surrounding a region of space. Now, there are air molecules in there, so that doesn't surprise you. But suppose we could remove all the air molecules, every single atom or molecule that's in this intervening area. Then there would be empty space, and you would probably think, "Gee, that's pretty boring." But we've learned in science that if you could drill down to very small scales, you would find out that there's this—even if you've removed all the matter—there's this dynamical something that's left there. And, that's, in fact, the biggest disconnect for us as physicists, that when you think that you've gotten rid of everything, there's still something there.

As a scientist, if you ask me to remove all the matter from the universe, then what I would tell you would be left are the things that we associate with the forces. In nature, there are four fundamental forces: There's the electromagnetic force, there is the strong nuclear force, there is the weak nuclear force, and there's a gravitational force. Each one of these forces is associated with a what we call force-carrying particle. So if you get rid of all the matter, you still haven't gotten rid of all the force-carrying particles, so something is still left.



Produced by
David Levin
Original interview by
Graham Judd


(Jim Gates)
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2011

Major funding for "The Fabric of the Cosmos" is provided by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Additional funding for this program is provided by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

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