Is Alice really burning?

Posted on Jun 5, 2014 in Outreach, quantum mechanics, universe

Imperial Physics had the somewhat unexpected pleasure to welcome Caltech theoretical physicist Sean Carroll (of fame) and science writer Jennifer Ouellette (whom the Twitterati might know under her Twitter name-de-plume of @JenLucPiquant), who were in London after participating to the Cheltenham Science Festival. They joined forces and gave an inspirational public talk entitled “Alice is burning”.

The talk started by asking what would happen to Alice as she falls into a black hole, and how her experience of crossing the infamous event horizon compares with what her friend Bob would see from far away. Is it really true that Alice experiences “no drama” as she crosses the event horizon, or does she encounter a wall of fire made of real particles that would incinerate her instantly, as some recent theoretical models would have it?

Those questions are at the heart of the latest efforts of reconciling classical general relativity with quantum mechanics. Carroll gave a lucid and insightful overview of what current theoretical speculations about the fundamental nature of quantum gravity and black hole paradoxes might be saying about the structure of reality.

A very entertaining, superbly clear talk from two science communicators at the top of their game.