Lawrence Krauss on Science

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World-famous Arizona State University physicist Lawrence Krauss makes his monthly visit to the Arizona Horizon studios to discuss the latest science news.

Ted Simons: The Doomsday clock, which keeps track of the possible destruction of mankind, has been reset, and scientists have broken new record for cold temperatures taking atoms below absolutely zero. Those are a couple of topics we'll discuss with world renowned physicist Lawrence Krauss who joins us for his monthly look at science issues. Good to see you.

Lawrence Krauss: Always good to be back.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here, let's start with this Doomsday clock. What is this?

Lawrence Krauss: Well, the clock was established by the atomic scientists, which group of people, actually the scientists who worked on the Manhattan project could build the bomb, after the war in 1946, they were very concerned about not only the use of the bomb, against Japan, but the possibility for nuclear war, and they wanted to alert the public to the dangers of nuclear weapons, and at that time, the two super powers getting nuclear weapons, and the dangers of the nuclear war, and one of the, one of the graphics that was created in 1947 was the Doomsday clock. And it shows by how many minutes to midnight, how close we are to possible Doomsday to illustrate the fact that in fact, a full-scale nuclear war would be Doomsday for humanity t has been as close as two minutes to midnight, as far as 17 minutes to midnight and, and I'm happy to be honored. It was created by, by the board of sponsors was created by Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer. And I am honored to be now the co-chairman of the board of sponsors of the bulletin, and every year or two, we meet together and have a, have a very pleasant symposium on Doomsday where I get to hear all the ways that we can destroy ourselves, and what we have done in the last few years is broaden it because nuclear weapons, unfortunately, are still problem. As Einstein said, 65 years ago, everything has changed by the way we think, the way we think hasn't changed. The world has 20,000 nuclear weapons. Why on Earth do we need that at the end of the cold war? It is ridiculous. But now, we have expanded it because there are other global threats. Climate change. And also, emerging biotechnologies, which are, which are of concern at some level.

Ted Simons: And emerging other technologies, as well, in cyberspace where hackers can do all sorts of things.

Lawrence Krauss: I think that, the idea is, you know, a lot of people wonder why we do this, I think there are few places where, where you can sort of sit back and say what are the existential global threats that we have to think about globally, not just as a nation but as a world? What do we have to be prepared to do? And we're not -- certainly nuclear weapons, we're not, we're not doing what we should be, and do not forget the huge problems in Iran and North Korea and the potential, just today, the "New York Times" was talking about, about new tensions between India and Pakistan, a few years ago in physics journal, physicists demonstrated a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan with 100 weapons, which you might think would be a disaster for them but ok for us, would be not ok for anyone. It would have global effects on climate that would probably kill a billion people over a decade because of reduction in agriculture and food.

Ted Simons: So there is no such thing as a limited nuclear war so with that in mind, and we have got the nuclear weapons, climate change and new technology, five minutes to midnight is where we are right now?

Lawrence Krauss: Ted Simons: We kept -- what we decided this year was to keep it -- it was at five minutes and we moved it a minute forward because of the fact that there was great hope, frankly, when Obama was elected, that we would address these issues, and some of them were addressed, but, what we moved forward on in certain areas in terms of international agreements, we have the start agreement, and we have moved backwards, Iran, tensions around the world there, and the fact that we -- amazingly 16 years ago the test ban treaty, which says we won't test nuclear weapons, was signed by this country as well as many other countries, but it hasn't been ratified by Congress. And in fact, this is -- I just wrote a piece for the "New York Times" yesterday because the national academy of sciences, the preeminent group of scientists in the country has done a study and shown that, in fact, we could monitor any cheating very effectively. There is no technical reason not to sign this treaty, and if we don't sign it, what message are we sending other countries? We're sending the message that hey, we don't want to stop testing nuclear weapons because maybe they are useful and we want to create new ones that we need to test. Well, what does that tell Iran? Or North Korea? It tells them, get nuclear weapons because we think that they are important.

Ted Simons: But wouldn't the message be that we don't really want to do this but we have to because we're not sure about you?

Lawrence Krauss: Well, we already have five to 10,000 nuclear weapons. It's hard to see why we need more. Or, or, and in fact, they have also been verified by scientific groups to be perfectly workable. We don't need to test new nuclear weapons. There is no technical reason, and I think that that's the important thing. You know, I got some letters from people after I wrote this piece. Scientists shouldn't decide public policy, but what they should do is provide the technical knowledge on which sound public policy is based. Here there is no technical reason to test nuclear weapons, or to build nuclear weapons, and so, you can decide, you know, the Congress and the public to decide what to do, but, they should be informed by science.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned public policy. Climate change is still debated in other areas outside of science, and much of science, the letter to the President you wrote, human activities are the dominant cause of global climate change, we'll get letters from people who say that is false.

Lawrence Krauss: The fact that that is controversial in the public domain is such a shame. Because it is not only unequivocal that, that human activity is the major cause of climate change but not the future. It is happening. We learned just this week that this year was the hottest year on record for the 48 states. And every year we wait, it becomes harder to address this problem, and that's why, in fact, one of the things that I'm excited about today, we're going to have, for those people who are interested in learning about this issue, we're going to have the world's experts together for public event, a great debate on February 2nd at Gammage auditorium, and we'll be talking about not only that it's happening, but what we need to do not to stop it because it's, it's, at this point, it's very difficult to stop climate change, but what we need to do to mitigate those effects because, we're, we're, talk about a fiscal cliff, we're sort of already over the climate cliff. It's begun to happen. Glaciers are melting worldwide, and ocean levels are increasing, and every year we wait makes it more and more difficult, and since country is not doing anything, all signs, we're headed for a difficult time. And we'll see what Obama does.

Ted Simons: The letter of the President written, the last point was regarding new technology be it bioweapons or cyber-technology and these things. Described as self-inflicted Doomsday from cyber-threats.

Lawrence Krauss: Well, you know, we have seen the, the, the emerging cyber-technology. We used them to affect the Iranian nuclear weapons program, but it's been used against banks by, by other groups, and it is emerging. It's still early. It's emerging, it's a great potential threat because our country, all of us depend crucially on this information network that we rely upon, and if it's, and if that's cut down, that will produce huge impacts on the economy, and so, it's a little early -- look, you know, you can worry about, about -- I don't want people to give up hope and say, just forget it, let's have a good time. Forget the budget problems, forget that. These problems are addressable but you have to, to look them in the eye. You have to -- you can't bury your head in the sand. Anticipate what the problems might be. Fortune favors, prepare the mind. It's our job to look at what the possibilities are. Inform people of those so we can head off some of them in the past, and as I say, that's where I think that science is important is trying to just provide that information so that people can make responsible and rational decisions.

Ted Simons: And quickly, that symposium is when?

Lawrence Krauss: February 2. 7:00 at night. Gammage auditorium, and you can get tickets at Gammage or online, and I think it will be a great evening.

Ted Simons: Ok. And before we go, there is science question that, that I saw the headline and I went wow, this sounds con fusing. I will ask Krauss. Absolute zero is now -- you know --

Lawrence Krauss: You think you cannot go below that, so what, you see the headline that says scientists have gone below to negative temperatures, and well, it appears to defy all rationality. And sometimes it does. It's unfortunate that sometime in order to get, in order to get headlines, we, we create terminology that gets people excited, and then it should --

Ted Simons: It worked.

Lawrence Krauss: And maybe it's not that unfortunate because it gets people to learn. Temperature is an, an artificial concept. It's macroscopic complex. It's warmer today and cold earlier, and, but, it does not describe what's happening at the atomic level. And what temperature, basically means is, the hotter things are, you have, if you have, a system of particles, a lot of them have bit of energy, but if you heat them up, some fraction them will have more and more energy. And temperature is a well-defined way of saying, well, there is a lot more with low energy and a few less with higher energy and a little less with higher energy, and the hotter you are, the more you have with higher energies. What, what has been created at very cold temperatures is to introvert that, and you cool everything down to extremely close to zero so everything has little energy, and then you, you, you systemically kick some of those particles into higher energy state, so in the system, there are more particles in the higher energy state than in the lower energy state.

Ted Simons: Ok.

Lawrence Krauss: If you define temperature, what that means, is it acts as if it is negative, or infinite. You choose. It's the opposite of what a normal -- it's an artificial state that, that physicists have created and, and sort of technically, it has negative temperature, but what it's more important, more important it shows that, that when you get to zero, you can manipulate the configuration of atoms in ways that maybe interesting and important. You can create very unnatural configurations; nature never produces those configurations that might help us produce new technologies.

Ted Simons: And I read it could include over 100% efficient engines. What are they talking about?

Lawrence Krauss: Well, I think that that's, that's -- that's it should.

Ted Simons: What does that mean?

Lawrence Krauss: In principle, over 100% would mean that, that -- you would, you would run the engine and you would get -- and in that, that's, that's not going to happen. So, when you read that, you should do what I always do, which is, you know, I like to keep an open mind but not so open that my brains fall out, and if your brains fall out, it's probably wrong.

Ted Simons: Or I can ask you to explain, so the idea that, of, of a, a temperature gauge, we think of it as being linear. You go warmer, warmer, colder, colder. This almost sounds like it's almost circular.

Lawrence Krauss: And it is but it's a, a technical bit of circularity. It's a definition. It's a macroscopic definition of something really not meant to apply to atomic systems because when we venture with temperature, people didn't know how the atomic systems worked. But, it could be very useful in technology to be able to manipulate the systems and put them in artificial configurations. When you talk about more than 100% efficiency, on short terms you may be able to do very interesting things like, for example, build computers that are in artificial configuration that is allow us to do computations that would take longer than the age of the University to do. And if you manipulate the atoms in a particular way, you may be able to do them in a finite amount of time which would have a profound impact not just on the scientific abilities but unfortunately, on our economy because our credit cards are protected by, by some things that you could, you could break into.

Ted Simons: All right, we'll leave it on that note.

Lawrence Krauss: Ok.

Ted Simons: Doomsday clocks and credit card fraud, good to see and you thanks for joining us. Always a pleasure.

Lawrence Krauss:Physicist, Arizona State University;

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