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Tech Q&A

Mario Livio

Describe your latest project.
In my scientific work I am currently interested primarily in two topics: 1) Dark energy; and, 2) Extrasolar planets. Here is a brief description of these topics. Since 1998 we know that the expansion of our universe is speeding up, propelled by some mysterious "dark energy." Understanding the nature of this dark energy is perhaps the most important problem physics is facing today. I am involved in studies that attempt to determine whether this dark energy is constant, or varying in time. Until 1995 we did not know of a single planet outside the solar system, but now we have discovered about 150 planets around other stars. I am doing research on the formation and evolution of such extrasolar planetary systems.

In my work as an author, I have started the research for my new book, entitled Is God A Mathematician? This book will explore the almost unresonable power of mathematics to explain physical reality. Theories based on mathematics are used not only to describe the workings of the cosmos, but to inaugurate revolutions in fields ranging from economics to evolutionary biology. Why? Does mathematics have an existence that is entirely independent of the human mind, or does it exist only inside our brains? Do humans discover or invent mathematics?

What inspires you to sit down and write?
I am driven by a passion to undestand the univesrse, and at the same time by an enthusiasm to communicate scientific findings to the public. I strongly believe that science and mathematics should be communicated in the same way that literature and poetry are — as a part of human culture.

Chess or video games?
I like chess very much, although I do not have much time anymore to play.

Describe your favorite childhood teacher and how that teacher influenced you.
In my last two years in high school I truly admired my math teacher. It wasn't so much his teaching talents that had impressed me, but his ability to solve difficult problems we used to bring him. Problems that he had never seen before.

What are some of the things you'd like your computer to do that it cannot now do?
I would like my computer to think. That is, I am convinced that future generations of computers (maybe a hundred years from now) will operate much like the human brain, only better.

Which country do you believe currently leads the world in science and technology? In ten years?
Currently the US leads the world in science and technology, but the US may be losing this leadership role. The world's most advanced particle accelerator will be switched on in 2007 in Geneva, Switzerland. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, that is supposed to release energy in a similar way to the Sun's "furnace," is being built in Cadarache, in southern France. China is undergoing an astonishing revolution in math and science education. The last thing the US needs right now is any further detraction from scientific research and the teaching of math and science.

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