Eminent American Theoretical Physicist, Cosmologist, Astrophysicist and Popular Science Writer
DEBANANDA S. NINGTHOUJAM, PhD
There are great scientists. There are equally famous artists. But as, C P Snow famously said, the two cultures usually don't meet, i.e. the scientific and the artistic worlds don't intersect.
Some scientists however have shown that sciences and arts are two intersecting sets and the two worlds are bridgeable areas of human creativity and not permanently separated chasm.
Here, we shall profile the life and career of Sean Michael Carroll, who is a multi-faceted scientist par excellence: theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, blogger, science magazine author and popular science writer.
Carroll was born on October 5, 1966 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
He completed his schooling from Pennsbury High School, Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania.
Sean did his undergraduate studies at Villanova University. He earned his BS degree in 1988 from this university in mathematics and astronomy.
Carroll earned his PhD in astronomy and astrophysics in 1993 from Harvard University. He did his dissertation on "Cosmological Consequences of Topological and Geometric Phenomena in Field Theories" under the mentorship of George B. Field.
He then pursued his postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, 1993-1996) and Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB, 1996-1999).
Scientific career and contributions
After his postdoctoral stints at MIT and Kavli Institute, Carroll joined the University of Chicago (Uchicago) as an assistant professor in 1999. He remained in this position till 2006.
He then shifted to California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 2006. He is currently a research professor at Caltech.
Carroll pioneered the study of (R) gravity in cosmology.
He has worked on several areas of theoretical cosmology, field theory, and gravitational theory. He has published a number of papers on models of violations of Lorentz invariance; varieties of topological defects in field theory; and cosmological dynamics of extra spacetime dimensions.
More recently, he has worked and published extensively on models of dark energy and its interactions with ordinary matter and dark matter.
Carroll has also worked on modifications of general relativity in cosmology.
He has further worked on the arrow of time problem. He (along with Jennifer Chan) proposed that the big bang is not an unique occurrence, but rather one of many cosmic inflation events resulting from quantum fluctuations of vacuum energy in a cold de Sitter space.
Recently, he has focused his attention on issues at the foundations of cosmology, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and complexity.
Carroll has been a contributor to the physics blog Cosmic Variance.
He started a podcast in 2018 called Mindscape, focusing on interviews of experts and intellectuals on a diversity of science-related topics. He has published research papers in mainstream science journals including Nature. He has also written scientific articles in magazines/newspapers such as New York Times, Sky & Telescope, and New Scientist.
Carroll has also authored a textbook Spacetime and Geometry (2004).
He has appeared on the History Channel's The Universe, the Science Channel's Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, and the Comedy Central's The Colbert Report.
Popular Science Books
Carroll has authored several popular science books including From Eternity to Here (2011), The Particle at the End of the Universe (2013), and The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (2016).
Awards and honours
Carroll received several awards for his scientific contributions including the Andrew Gemant Award (2014). This honour was given by the American Institute of Physics for "significant contributions to the cultural, artistic or humanistic dimension of physics."
He was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2010.
He was conferred a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2015.
Views on Religion
Carroll is an atheist, or as he calls it, a "poetic naturalist."
His claim is that science no longer needs to posit a divine being to explain the existence of the universe.
His 2016 book The Big Picture developed the philosophy of poetic naturalism.
His scientific papers, popular articles, and popular science books are Carroll's best legacy to the scientific, the intellectual, and the cultural world.
Some of the memorable quotes of Sean M. Carroll include the following:
• “A substantial fraction of the atoms in the body of a typical physicist were once in the form of pizza.”
• “Nothingness, after all, is simpler than any one particular existing thing ever could be; there is only one nothing, and many kinds of something.”
• “The construction of meaning is a fundamentally individual, subjective, creative enterprise, and an intimidating responsibility.”
• “When society puts some small fraction of its wealth into asking and answering big questions, it reminds us all of the curiosity we have about our universe. And that leads to all sorts of good places.”
• “Illusions can be pleasant, but the rewards of truth are enormously better.”
• “The world is not magic — and that’s the most magical thing about it.”
• “At heart, science is the quest for awesome - the literal awe that you feel when you understand something profound for the first time. It's a feeling we are all born with, although it often gets lost as we grow up and more mundane concerns take over our lives.”
•“The world keeps happening, in accordance with its rules; it's up to us to make sense of it and give it value.”
• “We are part of the universe that has developed a remarkable ability: We can hold an image of the world in our minds. We are matter contemplating itself.”
Carroll is married to Jennifer Oulette. Oulette is a science writer. She was formerly director of the Science & Entertainment Exchange, a forum that connects entertainment industry professionals with scientists & engineers.
Sean M. Carroll (1966-) has left lasting trails in the intellectual and the scientific world as a trailblazing theoretical physicist, a science blogger and columnist, a cosmologist and as a popular science writer.