Gravity: Past, Present, and Future

Synopsis

November 2015 saw the centenary of one of the greatest achievements in human thought, the theory of gravity created by Einstein. And yet the ideas involved were in many ways so far ahead of their time, that it took many years for the rest of science to catch up. Eventually, and firmly based on Einstein's theory, a revolution began to take shape, stimulated by a remarkable series of predictions by theoretical physicists and mathematicians. These predictions included ideas about gravitational waves, about "spacetime singularities" (eventually to be called black holes), and about the Big Bang and the subsequent evolution of the universe.

Beginning in the 1960s, observational confirmation finally began to come. Quasars and pulsars were discovered, along with the microwave background, and by the early 1970s a completely new picture of an extraordinarily violent universe was emerging, based in quantum mechanics as well as General Relativity. Looking back now, in 2017, one can see that a remarkable transformation in physics and astronomy was initiated between the 1950s and the 1980s. With the first direct observation of gravitational waves in September 2015, we can also see that it is still going on.

This meeting, the opening meeting to be organized in the context of the new "gravity archive" at UBC, has two main purposes. The first will be to look back at what has been achieved in the field, and to discuss and organize our efforts to archive it. This will be a long-term project with very broad scope, in which very important first steps have already been taken: it will involve both scientists and historians and philosophers of science. The second purpose of the meeting will be to look forward, at the open questions that remain - these will shape the future development of the field. Perhaps the largest question of all of these is the one that animated Einstein for so long: the search for a theory which unifies General Relativity and quantum mechanics, and which might solve the fundamental problems associated with each.