Chris Quigg (Fermilab)

The Nature of Science

Watch the talk (running time approx. 50 min.)

Science is one source and symbol for an imaginative, disciplined mind. In addition to giving us basic information we need to make sense of the natural world, the sciences teach us to identify and scrutinize our assumptions, to hone our powers of analysis, and to expand our capacity for synthesis. They impart great lessons for any vocation: to link cause with effect, to search for relevant evidence, and to seek the truth without self-deception.

As a method for exploring—for finding things out—science lives by its disdain for Authority and its reliance on experimentation and observation. The seventeenth-century gentlemen who founded the Royal Society of London took as their motto Nullius in verba—Don't take anyone's word for it! Scientists are human. They have limited powers, they make mistakes, they have incomplete knowledge, they may be too bold or too cautious in interpreting their findings. Science is a system by which imperfect beings can test and refine their understanding of the world.

Like the practice of science, the study of science must be more than acquiring a collection of facts. An awareness of how scientists think and how science is done helps us realize its limitations. Scientists are accustomed to dealing with doubt and uncertainty. Good scientific advice may be frustratingly conditional: sometimes scientists don't know enough to give a straight answer; sometimes Nature just can't be pinned down. And there are some issues—like moral choices—that science by itself can only inform, not resolve.

Scientific exploration is open-ended: today's facts are merely precise statements of what scientists understand at this particular time, not eternal truths. Science is organic, tentative; like life itself, science is a becoming, a great adventure of the human mind and spirit.

Chris Quigg graduated in physics from Yale in 1966 and received his Ph.D. at Berkeley in 1970. After four years in the Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook, he moved to Fermilab, which has been his scientific home ever since. He was for ten years Head of Fermilab's Theoretical Physics Department, and held a joint appointment at the University of Chicago from 1974 to 1991. In 1987 he returned to Berkeley to serve for two years as Deputy Director of the Superconducting Super Collider Central Design Group. He has held visiting appointments at École Normale Supérieure in Paris, Cornell University, and Princeton University; and as Erwin Schrödinger Professor at the University of Vienna.

Quigg's research on electroweak symmetry breaking and supercollider physics set the agenda for the Large Hadron Collider under construction at the European Lab for Particle Physics in Geneva. A new edition of his textbook, Gauge Theories of the Strong, Weak, and Electromagnetic Interactions, is in the works.

Chris Quigg is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Physical Society, and was awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship. He was Editor of the Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science from 1994 to 2004. As Chair of the APS Division of Particles and Fields, he led the organization of Snowmass 2001: a Summer Study on the Future of Particle Physics.

Quigg was a charter member of Saturday Morning Physics, Fermilab's enrichment program for high school students. He is a Trustee of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. He was featured recently in The Ultimate Particle, a road movie of particle physics broadcast on ARTE in France and Germany. Outside the laboratory, he enjoys cooking, music, and hiking the long-distance paths in France.

Back to Symposium Agenda