Explaining the Elegant Universe

Brian Greene, Professor of Physics and Mathematics, Columbia University

Common Hour event series
Sponsored by Mueller Fellowship

Thursday, October 24, 2013
11:30 a.m.-12:35 p.m.
Brian Greene's website

String theorist and author of The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene is one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists and a brilliant, entertaining communicator of cutting-edge scientific concepts. The Washington Post described him as “the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today.”

In his national bestseller, The Elegant Universe, Greene recounted how the theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics transformed our understanding of the universe, and introduced string theory, a concept that might be the key to a unified theory of the universe. The book sold more than a million copies and became an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning NOVA special that Greene hosted.


Brian Greene is a physicist who has been working on quantum gravity and unified theories for nearly two decades. He is widely recognized for a number of groundbreaking discoveries in the field and also for his lucid presentations of cutting-edge research to scientists and fellow physicists as well as to general audiences. 

 His books, The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, both spent six months on The New York Times bestsellers list and have received much critical acclaim. The Elegant Universe was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and the winner of the 2000 Aventis Prize for Science Books. It has sold more than a million copies worldwide and has been translated into 35 languages. In its starred review of The Fabric of the Cosmos, Publishers Weekly hailed “Greene’s unparalleled ability to translate higher mathematics and its findings into everyday language and images, through the adept use of metaphor and analogy, and crisp, witty prose.” The New York Times concurred, saying that Greene’s book “sends the reader’s imagination hurtling through the universe on an astonishing ride,” and The Washington Post calls Greene “the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today.” It is  became a 4-part NOVA mini-series in 2011. 

Dr. Greene’s book, Icarus at the Edge of Time, is a futuristic retelling of the Icarus myth.  The Wall Street Journal described it as “terrific” and Seed magazine called it “moving and successful" and "beautifully illustrated”.

 Greene became the first physicist to edit the prestigious series, The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2006. In his introduction, Greene wrote, “Willful ignorance of science is not okay. We are living through a radical cultural shift, once in which science and technology play an increasingly pervasive role in everyday life . . . A scientifically literate public is, plainly, increasingly vital.”

Professor Greene received his undergraduate training at Harvard University where he graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1984. He went on to graduate school at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and received his doctorate in 1986. From 1987-90, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, and in 1990 he joined the faculty of Cornell University as an assistant professor. By 1995 he had been promoted to tenured associate and then full professor, along the way winning an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award. In 1996, Professor Greene left Cornell to join Columbia University, where he holds a full professorship in both the Physics and the Mathematics Departments. He has lectured in more than 25 countries at both a general and a technical level.

His research interests focus on the quantum mechanical properties of space and time. In 1990, Dr. Greene and a Harvard colleague discovered mirror symmetry — a remarkable property of string theory that has launched a vibrant field of research in both mathematics and physics. In 1993 and subsequently in 1995, Dr. Greene and his colleagues discovered topology change. Whereas Einstein’s general relativity shows that the fabric of space can stretch in time (resulting in our expanding universe), it does not allow the fabric to rip. To the contrary, Dr. Greene and his colleagues showed that in string theory — by including quantum mechanics — the fabric of space can tear, establishing that the universe can evolve in far more dramatic ways than Einstein had envisioned. Greene’s “elegant universe” and study of string theory have been widely profiled by the media including a one-hour segment on ABC’s Brave New World series on Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, CNN, Charlie Rose, The Colbert Report, Seed Magazine, Scientific American, USA Today, The New York Times, Conan O’Brien and The Late Show with David Letterman. Currently, Greene is co-director of Columbia's ISCAP (Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics) and is leading a research program studying the cosmological implications of string theory.

In the Fall of 2003, Dr. Greene hosted the three-part NOVA special The Elegant Universe, which won an Emmy Award and a 2004 Peabody Award for broadcast excellence. The NOVA website received nearly two million hits during the three day airing of the show.

He also co-founded the first annual World Science Festival, a weeklong extravaganza that enabled the general public to explore science, from cutting-edge research to works in theatre, film, and the arts inspired by scientific ideas. The hugely successful festival was held in New York City in 2008 and hosted over 120,000 visitors.

This event is open to the public.

Free; no tickets required.

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