Dr. Jim Gates Visits Spalding Science Club

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Catcher Salazar, Club Ambassador

 

This past February, the Cavs Science Club was privileged to host Dr. Jim Gates as a virtual guest speaker. Dr. Gates is the Director of the Brown Theoretical Physics Center, the Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, and an Affiliate Math Professor at Brown University. Dr. Gates has led a distinguished career, serving on President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, receiving the National Medal of Science from President Obama, being elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and currently serving as the President of the American Physical Society.

Dr. Gates spoke about his early life, and how he was inspired by science fiction movies, books, and Marvel comics to pursue a life in science. He took us through the challenges he faced at MIT as an undergraduate, and the satisfaction that came when his father was able to see him at his graduation ceremony. Dr. Gates then showed the club the adventures and experiences that a life in science can bring, including safaris in South Africa, yacht driving, features in short movies, jokes with President Biden and Richard Feynman, and meetings with Stephen Hawking (left). 

The club was then able to learn about Dr. Gates’ work in theoretical physics. Dr. Gates and his collaborators were faced with the dilemma of unifying a disparate set of physics equations. So, they took a creative, interdisciplinary approach, combining biology and computer science to solve this physics-based problem. Essentially, what they did was mimic a branch of large-scale bioinformatics–the process of sequencing and comparing multiple organism genomes–with physics equations. Instead of lining up DNA sequences to find similarities, Dr. Gates lined up hundreds of physics equations and drew similarities from them with the power of computer science. These materialized in symbols they named “Adinkras”.

Dr. Gates left the club with many words of wisdom, such as “don’t live your life as a ‘should have done’. Try things.” In response to the questions asked, Dr. Gates emphasized the importance of creativity in science, and also the importance of diversity–with diversity, people with different backgrounds and different life experiences can provide different solutions to problems that otherwise would not be found. Without diversity in science, humanity’s potential cannot be fully achieved. And lastly, Dr. Gates addressed the idea of genius, telling the club that genius isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. “Everyone can perform acts of genius”.