Lisa Randall, Ph.D. is Professor of Physics at Harvard University, whose studies have made her among the most cited and influential theoretical physicists. She was named one of the "75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century" in 2008 by Esquire Magazine, one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World," by Time in 2007, one of 40 people featured in The Rolling Stone "40th Anniversary Issue", featured in Newsweek's "Who's Next in 2006" as "one of the most promising theoretical physicists of her generation" and in Seed Magazine's "2005 Year in Science Icons". A sought after keynote speaker, Randall is a regular participant in TED, has given a Guggenheim presentation, and spoken at the Whitney Museum debate, the Rubin Museum, the 92nd St Y, as well as at science museums, such as the Museum of Natural History, the Boston Museum of Science, and the Smithsonian. She has also had a public presence through her writing, lectures, and radio and TV appearances. Her book Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions (Ecco) was a New York Times 100 notable book of 2005. Her latest book is the New York Times best-seller Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World (Ecco).
Randall has received numerous awards and honors for her scientific endeavors. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was a fellow of the American Physical Society, and is a past winner of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, a DOE Outstanding Junior Investigator Award, and the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. In 2003, she received the Premio Caterina Tomassoni e Felice Pietro Chisesi Award, from the University of Rome, La Sapienza. In 2006, she received the Klopsteg Award from the American Society of Physics Teachers (AAPT) for her lectures and in 2007 she received the Julius Lilienfeld Prize from the American Physical Society for her work on elementary particle physics and cosmology and for communicating this work to the public. Randall's work has been featured in Time magazine, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, The Economist, New Scientist, Science, Nature, and elsewhere. Fellow scientists have cited her research more often than that of any other theoretical high-energy physicist in recent years, and she was the first tenured woman in the Princeton physics department and the first tenured woman theorist at M.I.T. and Harvard.
In Knocking on Heaven's Door, Randall explores the latest developments in physics that have the potential to radically revise our understanding of the world: its makeup, its evolution, and the fundamental forces that drive its operation. An expert on both particle physics (the study of the smallest objects of which we know) and cosmology (the study of the largest), she shows how we decide which scientific questions to study and how we go about answering them; she examines the role of risk, creativity, uncertainty, beauty, and truth in scientific thinking through provocative conversations with leading figures in other fields (such as the chef David Chang, the forecaster Nate Silver, and the screenwriter Scott Derrickson); and she explains with wit and clarity the latest ideas in physics and cosmology, including the aims of the biggest and most expensive machine ever built: the Large Hadron Collider, the enormous collider below the border of France and Switzerland. Nearly 27 kilometers in circumference, it has within it both the hottest spot in the galaxy and the coldest, and features the most powerful supercomputer system in the world.
Randall's newest book, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs (Ecco), brings together these two unlikely phenomena posing the question, “what if dark matter was responsible for the extinction of land-dwelling dinosaurs?” Positing the existence of a previously undiscovered type of dark matter that interactions with forces other than gravity, Randall proposes that there is a disk of this dark matter embedded in the midplane of the Milky Way. This disk might be responsible for knocking comets out of the Oort Cloud and causing periodic extinctions, including that of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. It explains how the Universe came to exist as it does, the nature and role of dark matter, and how we know it is present.
Randall has also recently pursued art-science connections, writing a libretto for Hypermusic: A Projective Opera in Seven Planes that premiered in the Pompidou Center in Paris and co-curating an art exhibit Measure for Measure for the Los Angeles Arts Association. Randall earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University and held professorships at MIT and Princeton University before returning to Harvard in 2001. She lives in Cambridge, MA.
Praise for Knocking on Heaven's Door:
"Lisa Randall has written Knocking on Heaven's Door in the same witty, informal style with which she explains physics in person, making complex ideas fascinating and easy to understand. Her book presents the latest physics developments with excursions into culture and public policy, explaining science in ways that just might make you think differently - and encourage you to make smarter decisions about the world."
-- President Bill Clinton
"Explores some of the biggest ideas in contemporary physics and how they undergird such everyday matters as risk assessment, logic, and even our understanding of beauty."
"Science has a battle for hearts and minds on its hands: a battle on two fronts - against superstition and ignorance on one flank, and against pseudo-intellectual obscurantism on the other. How good it feels to have Lisa Randall's unusual blend of top flight science, clarity, and charm on our side."
-- Richard Dawkins
"[Randall is] one of the more original theorists at work in the profession today. . . She gives a fine analysis of the affinity between scientific and artistic beauty, comparing the broken symmetries of a Richard Serra sculpture to those at the core of the Standard Model."
-- New York Times Book Review
"Many books call to mind superlatives, but this one has them all. It explains the greatest scientific endeavor in history - one that is exploring the earliest, smallest, largest, and most powerful phenomena in the universe, and that may answer the deepest questions about the nature of physical reality. Lisa Randall's lucid explanations of concepts at the frontiers of physics - including her own dazzling ideas - are highly illuminating, and her hearty defense of reason and science is a welcome contribution to the contemporary world of ideas. Read this book today to understand the science of tomorrow."
-- Steven Pinker
"Startlingly honest [and] beautifully written. . . Randall's calm authority and clarity of explanation are exemplary. . . Like being taken behind the curtain in Oz and given a full tour by the wizard."
"Lisa Randall is the rarest rarity - a theoretical physics genius who can write and talk to the rest of us in ways we both understand and enjoy. This book takes nonspecialists as close as they'll ever get to the inner workings of the cosmos."
-- Lawrence H. Summers, President Emeritus of Harvard University
"Written with dry wit and ice-cool clarity. . . Knocking on Heaven's Door is a book that anyone at all interested in science must read. This is surely the science book of the year."
-- Sunday Times (London)
"[Randall's] eloquent book details the trials and tribulations of the [Large Hadron Collider], from conception to implementation, and takes us on a grand tour of the underlying science."
"[V]aluable and engaging... the LHC is [Randall's] unsung hero. She is eloquent in describing its many remarkable features, the narration gaining vividness from her own sense of awe. . . Randall's generous cornucopia of ideas, her engaging style, and above all her deep excitement about physics make this a book that deserves a wide readership."
-- The American Scientist
"Beautifully written. . . An impressive overview of what scientists (of any kind) get up to, how they work and why science is an inherently creative endeavor."
-- Times Higher Education (London)
"[V]ery accessible, readable, and appealing to a broad audience. . . Randall's passion and excitement for science and physics is infectious and welcome in our digital age."
-- New York Journal of Books
"Full of passion and jaw-dropping facts. . . A fascinating account of modern particle physics, both theoretical and practical."
-- The Independent on Sunday
"Randall manages to transform . . . experiments at distant and unfamiliar scales into crucial acts in a cosmic drama."
-- Daily Beast
"A deep and deeply wonderful explanation of how science - and the rest of the known universe - actually works."
-- Daniel Gilbert, best-selling author of Stumbling on Happiness
"As a biologist I found Knocking on Heaven's Door a very timely dive into modern physics and in particular the inner workings of the Large Hadron Collider where soon some of the biggest experiments in physics are about to take place. Lisa Randall does a great job of explaining to the non-physicist the basic science approaches of modern physics and what the latest experiments might reveal. She explains in very readable terms the notion of scale from the inner structure of the atom to the universe and how many of the basic principals were discovered. This is a must read to appreciate what is coming in our future."
-- J. Craig Venter, Ph.D.
"I didn't think it was possible to write a complex, detailed look at the world of physics that the non-scientist could understand, but then Lisa Randall wrote this amazing, insightful, and engaging book and proved me wrong."
-- Carlton Cuse, award-winning producer and writer of Lost
"Knocking on Heaven's Door explores the entire range of the Universe, from the vastness of cosmology to the infinitesimals of particle science. Her focus on the essential relationship between technology and scientific thinking prompts fascinating debate, and is a great primer for those non-scientists who are trying to figure out the purpose of the Large Hadron Collider."
-- Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and CEO of Tesla Motors
Praise for Warped Passages:
"Lisa Randall, a leading theorist, has made major contributions to both particle physics and cosmology."
-- Brian Greene, bestselling author of The Elegant Universe and The Fabrics of the Cosmos
"Randall is one of the most influential and exciting young theoretical physicists working in elementary particle physics and cosmology today."
-- Lee Smolin, author of Three Roads to Quantum Gravity
"There are still very few women in the top echelons of theoretical physics, but Lisa Randall has risen to become an unquestioned leader."
-- Alan Guth, Victor F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics at MIT and author of The Inflationary Universe
"Warped Passages gives an engaging and remarkably clear account of how the existence of dimension beyond the familiar three (or four if you include time) may resolve a host of comic quandaries."
-- New York Times Book Review
"Lisa Randall's book is dense with a dazzlement of new concepts, language, and world-pictures, all sure to open the mind and enlarge the vocabulary of anyone who reads it - and the neatest trick is that the wildest inventions of her new physics seem simply to be true to the world as it actually is."
-- Adam Gopnik, New York Times best-selling author of Paris to the Moon
"Warped Passages is a lucid explanation of the strange and powerful new ideas that physicists are working with to explain the nature of physical reality."
-- Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, and The Blank Slate
"Warped Passages promises much and delivers more. An eminent pioneer in the exploration of extra spatial dimensions not only recounts her fascinating trek, but also expertly describes the larger terrain of precursor developments in particle physics that have led to the hypothesis of more dimensions."
-- David Gross, Winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize for Physics
"A great read. You know, everything you ever wanted to know about all these ideas are there and written in a very readable form. I highly recommend it."
-- Ira Flatow, host of National Public Radio's "Science Friday"
Photo by Jack Lindholml