Rodolfo Gambini, the Uruguayan physicist who united science and philosophy and is known internationally – 04/25/2021

Rodolfo Gambini, the Uruguayan physicist who united science and philosophy and is known internationally – 04/25/2021

Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Enrico Fermi, Pierre and Marie Curie. Only six names of the most prominent physicists of the twentieth century. His texts, his life, and his work were within the reach of the father’s library. Rodolfo GambiniBorn on May 1, 1946, he spent his childhood browsing these books. “I’ve had motivation my whole life. Maybe because my dad was also interested in physics and I was really passionate about the topics of quantum mechanics and general relativity in particular. I’ve always wanted it,” he told El País one day after his appointment as a member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, An institution with 241 years of history.

He was the second graduate of a Bachelor’s degree in Physics from the Faculty of Humanities and Ancient Sciences at the University of the Republic. With the advent of the dictatorship, he continued his studies in Paris, where he completed his doctorate in theoretical physics. His thesis was on Gravitational wave propagation In flexible media.

Academia has 241 years of history.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences honors excellence and brings together leaders from all areas of human endeavor to study new ideas, address issues of importance to the nation and the world, and work together to develop all the arts and sciences that advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people. , The second president of the United States, John Hancock, the prominent patriot of the American Revolution, and 60 other researchers this institution are convinced that the new republic will require institutions capable of gathering knowledge and promoting learning in the service of the public well.

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More than 13,500 members have been elected since 1780. “This was the first Academy of Sciences; the other (the National Academy of Sciences) was created by (Abraham) Lincoln in 1863. It has many years of history and is wider in focus because it includes politicians and philosophers. Sociologists and people from the humanities as well as scientists. ”Its most recent member, Uruguayan physicist Rodolfo Gambini, commented.

“When I was studying, many of my professors were skeptical about the existence of gravitational waves because at that time there was great confusion in how to understand Einstein’s General Relativity Which predicted the necessity of these waves, but it was not clear why there is a problem in general relativity, where it seems that many things exist, but rather it is the result of a certain way of looking at the problem. But if you looked wider, it wouldn’t exist, ”he explained. Einstein was convinced that it would not be possible to measure gravitational waves. Einstein was wrong.

Gambini was not skeptical (nor is he now) but admits that he was a bit “pessimistic”. Meaning that at that time – the 1970s and 1980s – he thought he would have to wait “400 years” to get accurate knowledge about some issues in the universe. But it was not necessary. Gravitational waves, for example, were first detected in 2015. “Building gravity detectors was an extraordinary technical achievement that opened the door to the universe,” he said.

Now, after retiring from teaching, after writing more than 100 articles in the field of particle physics, after directing Field Theory and General Relativity Group from the Institute of Physics From the College of Science and internationally featured in crafting The “Montevideo Interpretation” of Quantum MechanicsAfter becoming the first president of the National Academy of Sciences and after retiring in Punta del Este, he became more optimistic.

Quantum Mechanics: The Theory from Montevideo.

Gambini’s work focused on field theory, an offshoot of
Physics describing the behavior of gravitational and electromagnetic fields, among other things. He formulated the so-called “Montevideo Interpretation” of quantum mechanics. “There have been many explanations since the creation of quantum mechanics in the 1920s and they all ran into problems. We proposed an explanation based solely on quantum mechanics without any other hypotheses. This is very good because one thinks the universe is essentially quantum because everyday beings are made up of microscopic beings of a nature.” Quantum. So, this interpretation solves some problems and is in fact the basis of our most philosophical work, the hospital world. “

And it has many reasons.

One of them is the advancement of science and technology. “What we do not know is always seen so far that it suddenly appears,” he told El País. He gave as an example the Standard Model of particle physics, which was developed in the 1970s, when he “believed” that “we have a very good understanding of the elementary particles that make up the universe.” It was believed that this theory would last for a “long time” and yet problems did arise.

After decades of research and teaching, Gambini summed it up as follows: “The constant is change and surprise.”

Rodolfo Gambini
Rodolfo Gambini. Photo: Ricardo Figueiredo

Another reason for optimism is Uruguay’s science talent, despite a historical shortage of funding. When Gambini returned to Uruguay in 1987, there were only “a handful of scholars”. There is now a unified work team that excels abroad. “We are still a small country but in terms of quality we compete very well in many fields. It is the product of the effort of the scientific community that has been integrated and is working in a coordinated manner. There is already a great sense of common goals that have to do with national development and science,” he said. Knowledge is what can change a country. “

The hospitable universe and philosophical problems.

Rodolfo Gambini has always been interested in physics with a philosophical vision: unraveling the mysteries of the universe, nature and mankind. That is, “How do we understand each other from this material structure that seems to be embedded in our constitution.” It combined two parts that many believe are incompatible: the hard sciences and the humanities. In his book A hospitable world It explains how the laws of physics work and allow the development of structures to make life possible as well as human consciousness. He said, “It seems something totally incompatible when you think of the physics taught in high school, which has been totally overlooked by the current physics most favorable to the evolution of life.”

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But what’s missing? Gambini did not hesitate to answer: “The conviction that Uruguay can be a country with a development based on knowledge and science.” Therefore, the political will is missing. From the start of his career until “very recently” he pointed out that the country was seen only as an agricultural country, which is why “it did not have to deal” with science. “They said that basic sciences are an unnecessary luxury and that reality has completely surpassed it today,” he said.

He added, “The role of basic sciences in recent years is clear and is the basis for the possibilities of transforming the country with another type of production, with another ability to innovate and adapt to new challenges. There is room for optimism, but there is no political decision to systematically promote this development.”

Gambini is also optimistic that there will be no shortage of young people who show the same enthusiasm that he felt when he read his father’s books. He advised them all: “You can never be lacking in curiosity and desire for knowledge.” But he also demands independence from them because “everyone has a different vision.” He said to them: The ability to contribute to each of us.

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