MODERATOR: John Hockenberry
PARTICIPANTS: George Ellis, Frank Wilczek, John Barrow, Paul Davies
PROGRAM DATE: Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why is there something rather than nothing? And what does ‘nothing’ really mean? More than a philosophical musing, understanding nothing may be the key to unlocking deep mysteries of the universe, from dark energy to why particles have mass. Journalist John Hockenberry hosts Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek, esteemed cosmologist John Barrow, and leading physicists Paul Davies and George Ellis as they explore physics, philosophy and the nothing they share.

This program is part of The Big Idea Series, made possible with support from the John Templeton Foundation.

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Three-time Peabody Award winner, four-time Emmy Award winner, and Dateline NBC correspondent John Hockenberry has broad experience as a journalist and commentator for more than two decades. Hockenberry is the anchor of the public radio show The Takeaway on WNYC and PRI. He has reported from all over the world, in virtually every medium, having anchored programs for network, cable, and radio. Hockenberry is a noted presenter and moderator at conferences such as TED, Aspen Ideas, and the World Science Festival.




George Ellis is Professor Emeritus of Applied Mathematics at the University of Capetown, and investigates the physical foundations of the flow of time.. He is the co-author with Stephen Hawking of The Large Scale Structure of Space Time.

He is past president of the International Society of General Relativity and Gravitation, the Royal Society of South Africa and the International Society of Science and Religion, a Founder Member of the South African Academy of Science, and a Fellow of both the Third World Academy of Science and of the Royal Society, London. He is Joint Editor in Chief of the Journal of General Relativity and Gravitation. He has been awarded the Herschel Medal of the Royal Society of South Africa, the Star of South Africa Medal (awarded by President Mandela), the Templeton Prize (2004), the South African National Science and Technology Forum lifetime contribution award, the Academy of Science of South Africa Gold medal, and the Order of Mapungubwe (awarded by President Thabo Mbeki).

Theoretical Physicist, Mathematician, and Nobel Laureate in Physics

Professor Frank Wilczek is considered one of the world’s eminent theoretical physicists. In 2004, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction—key to several major problems in particle physics and beyond.

Professor Wilczek contributes regularly to Physics Today and to Nature, explaining topics at the frontiers of physics to wider scientific audiences. Two of his pieces have been anthologized in Best American Science Writing (2003, 2005). With his wife Betsy Devine, he wrote Longing for the Harmonies (W.W. Norton). His most recent book, The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces (Perseus) was published in September 2008, and he’s now hard at work on The Attraction of Darkness, a novel mixing science, music, sex, and murder.

Professor Wilczek is a second-generation American and a graduate of the New York City’s public schools. Presently he is the Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics at MIT.

john barrow
Mathematician, Physicist

John Barrow is a research professor of mathematical sciences in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge in England. He is also the author of nearly twenty books for a general audience, including The Book of Nothing, and is the director of the Millennium Mathematics Project, a mathematics education initiative.

Physicist, Cosmologist, Astrobiologist

Paul Davies is a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist, and best-selling author. He is Regents’ Professor at Arizona State University, where he is Director of Beyond: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, co-director of the Cosmology Initiative and principal investigator of the Center for the Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology. He previously held academic appointments in the UK and Australia. His research focuses on the “big questions”, from the origin of the universe to the origin of life. His most recent popular book is The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe? He has received the Templeton Prize, the Royal Society’s Faraday Prize, the Kelvin Medal of the UK Institute of Physics, the Robinson Cosmology Prize, and many book awards. He is a member of the Order of Australia and a recipient of the Bicentenary Medal of Chile. The asteroid (6870) Pauldavies is named in his honor.