A First Taste of Convergence

Scientists from around the world have started to converge at Perimeter, and Convergence rapporteur David Harris already feels his brain getting full. 

By David Harris
Physics conferences have a typical form and feeling. But this Convergence conference has a different sense to it. Arriving last night, I was prepped for science by the hotel restaurant and bar called “Proof” which is decorated with mathematics, including chalkboards drawn by Perimeter Institute scientists. Although not a part of the conference per se, it felt like an appropriate introduction to the meeting. 
Then, arriving at Perimeter, it was immediately obvious that this is not your usual physics conference as all the spaces were set up for events and collaboration. We often don’t think too much about the physical space in which we do science, but PI seems to have given it a lot of thought. A series of interaction spaces are designed to allow the best flow of ideas from one mind to another, mediated by a chalkboard and lots of arm waving!
As the first day began, reunions abounded as graduates of the Perimeter Scholars International re-met having gone to far-flung institutions since studying here. Most of the chat was catching up among old friends but science wasn’t too far from the conversation.
I had an interesting conversation with PI scientists who talked about efforts to detect black holes by looking for gravitational microlensing of radio waves. Unlike regular gravitational lensing, which involves light being bent around a massive object so as to produce multiple images of a source, microlensing can only be detected by looking for changes in the brightness of an object. The characteristics of the light changes over time (called the light curve) might reveal properties of a black hole. Their proposal would potentially double the number of known black holes over a six year survey of the sky, and find black holes of different types to those currently known because the black holes discovered so far are mostly in binary rotation with a bright star. Radio wave microlensing would allow for the discovery of small and standalone black holes in a new way.
Another conversation was about the simulation of collapsing masses of dust and the way that they could potentially form what is called a naked singularity. A naked singularity is an extreme point in spacetime where gravity essentially becomes infinite, but without an event horizon, such as in a black hole. Although there are serious doubts that a naked singularity can exist in nature, some theories, such as loop quantum gravity, allow for the existence of naked singularities. Their existence would mean that scientists could potentially observe the collapse of matter to infinite density without the event horizon of a black hole getting in the way of the observation.
The talks haven’t even started yet but my brain is starting to fill up with fascinating ideas about the state of the universe and cosmological interrogations. And that’s before we even get started on many of the other fields of physics that will be discussed here at Convergence.
David Harris is a theoretical physicist turned science journalist and communicator. He is the on-site rapporteur for the Convergence conference at Perimeter Institute. Follow him on Twitter and watch this blog for his daily coverage.


"The talks haven’t even started yet but my brain is starting to fill up with fascinating ideas about the state of the universe and cosmological interrogations."

- David Harris