Honors forum features theses, fourth dimension

Elise Franco

Instead of giving a PowerPoint presentation at yesterday’s Forum for Undergraduate Scholars and Artists, senior English major Brady Nichol changed it up by reading an excerpt from his science fiction adventure novel Project Analog.

Larry Andrews, dean of the Honors College, said, “The flower of our youth are presenting today the results of their thesis research projects.”

The students who do the independent research are given a unique opportunity and are set apart from other students, he said.

Nichol and 26 other members of McNair Scholars Program presented their Honors thesis papers and posters.

Nichol said he thought writing his thesis as a novel would be fun, but soon discovered it was as emotionally taxing and stressful as writing a traditional thesis.

“Now that I’ve finished the thesis, I want to actually finish the novel and maybe eventually have it published,” he said.

The thesis presentations and the Honors Forum Keynote Address were included in yesterday’s forum as part of Honors Week, which kicked off Sunday morning.

After the thesis presentations, guest speaker Lisa Randall gave the address.

Randall, a physicist from Harvard, was the first woman to earn tenure in physics at Princeton University, as well as the first woman to earn tenure in theoretical physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.

More recently, she was featured in an article in Newsweek titled “Who’s Next 2006.”

In 2005, Randall published a book called Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions, which was the topic of last night’s address. Randall autographed the book before the address.

The book focuses on the possibility of more than three dimensions existing in our universe, Randall said.

“These new ideas will provide deeper connections to already-known theoretical quantities,” she said.

In her speech Randall asked the question, “Why are physicists thinking about extra dimensions?”

She answered it when she said they are seeking a better understanding of the universe and the physical phenomenon we currently observe.

A universe beyond three dimensions is extremely hard to visualize, even for a physicist, Randall said.

Edwin A. Abbott wrote a book in 1984 called Flatland. The book, which is about two-dimensional creatures living in a two-dimensional world, describes how it would be to not understand what three dimensions look like, Randall said.

“The creatures have the same trouble picturing three dimensions as we have picturing four or more dimensions,” she said. “In theory we know it’s there, and we can picture it in principle, but we can’t visualize it fully.”

When it comes to seeing dimensions, a word is worth 1,000 pictures, Randall said.

She said the idea of a fourth dimension was first proposed in 1919 by physicist Theodore Kaluza.

Randall then described branes, which are distinguished dimensions along other branes perpendicular to one another. They trap all particles and forces within the fourth dimension, except for gravity.

“It is important that gravity is not stuck on the fourth dimension because all other energy interacts via gravity,” she said.

It is possible to research and find out more about the possibility of these fourth dimensions, she said as she closed the speech, because in the past, every time the universe has been explored and researched, something new and unexpected has been discovered.

Contact undergraduate studies and Honors College reporter Elise Franco at