Ramamurti Shankar promised he would use only one equation in his entire talk on quantum physics.
“If I write two,” he said before his lecture, “you can get up and heckle me.”
Over 200 people came to the Law School auditorium Monday afternoon to hear Professor Shankar, chairman of the Physics Department, speak about the phenomenon of the way electrons move. His talk, titled, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it — Yogi Berra’s introduction to the quantum world,” was the first in a series of lectures that will be given this academic year by distinguished faculty of the Graduate School.
The lecture series, called “In the Company of Scholars,” began in the spring semester of 1999. Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield said it reflected an effort to bring together students across different disciplines. The title is taken from the introduction to George Pierson’s book, “Yale: A Short History.”
“The main purpose [of these lectures] is to foster the intellectual curiosity that is so bountiful on this campus and for students and faculty in a variety of disciplines to interact with each other,” Hockfield said.
“The only thing I told the lecturers is that they must speak so that an intelligent person from any discipline can understand,” she said.
Shankar’s audience on Monday included students, faculty and city residents. Shankar began his talk by reassuring those in attendance that they would be able to follow his presentation regardless of their discipline.
“Just relax and don’t worry about it,” he said.
Shankar’s PowerPoint presentation consisted of a series of simple diagrams interspersed with witty quotes. He talked about the end of Newtonian physics. When particles are confronted with a choice of which way to go, he said, they go both ways. A person would expect the particles to pick a path, he said.
“But that’s not what electrons and all these tiny guys do,” he said before the lecture. “They are not going this way, and they are not going that way.”
Audience members responded positively to Shankar’s lecture.
Collin Jackson ’04 said that he took a physics course with Shankar two years ago.
“[The] jokes that he made were definitely the highlight of the course for me,” Jackson said.
Jackson came Monday to hear some more.
Stephen Goot, department registrar of the Graduate School, said he loved the talk.
Goot said he is not a scientific person and is drawn instead to the humanities and social sciences. But Professor Shankar succeeded in “bringing down to earth” the concept of quantum physics, Goot said.
The next lecture in the series will be given by Howard Bloch, Augustus R. Street Professor of French. Professor Bloch’s talk — to be held on Nov. 20 — is titled “Animal Fables, the Bayeux Tapestry, and the Making of the Anglo-Norman World.”