Lisa Randall’s Guide to the Galaxy

The famed cosmologist unveils her latest theories on the invisible universe, extra dimensions and human consciousness

Lisa Randall is the first female theoretical physicist tenured at Harvard. (Andreas Pein / LAIF / Redux)
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At this point, where “the baryons collapse into the disk,” I am totally lost, but “the important thing,” she continues, “is that it’s just a scenario that oddly enough no one has considered. People thought about dark matter interacting—but having all the dark matter interacting. And [in this model] it’s very constrained.” It’s an infinitesimal piece of the 96 percent deigning to interact with our poor, pitiful 4 percent.

The reporter in me suddenly feels this could be a huge scoop, a cosmic scoop—just yesterday the curtain may have been lifted on much of the 96 percent of the universe we have been clueless about. But the math program dropout in me despairs at truly understanding what she’s telling me.

Fortunately, she shows me a copy of her notes for her AAAS talk, titled “What Is Dark Matter?” Although it leaves many things obscure to me, it gives a great sense of her voice when speaking to her peers—careful but sometimes exuberant.

Here are a few samples:

—It’s not dark—it’s effectively transparent!
—Hopes to see it based on it being a little opaque.
—Talk today...alternatives to standard WIMP paradigm.

WIMP, Randall tells me, stands for “Weakly Interactive Massive Particles,” the dominant paradigm about dark matter to this point.

—Why should everything be like our matter?
—What is mysterious is that energy stored in dark matter and ordinary matter is so similar.
—Experimental Lampposts: LHC.

(The LHC is the Large Hadron Collider, the multibillion-dollar particle accelerator on the Swiss border that found evidence of a Higgs particle—or “something more elaborate,” as she says in the new preface to Heaven’s Door, since she believes there are some ambiguities in the evidence that the Big Discovery actually was a Higgs particle. The LHC is in the shop now, so to speak, getting retrofitted to produce even more astoundingly energized collisions of particles, which, she told me, might discover more anomalies that indicate something about dark matter.

—Waiting for higher energies, more intensity.
(Aren’t we all?)
—Don’t know yet if this lamppost in the right region.
(Meaning not Switzerland but super-subatomic infinitesimality.)
Now here’s her signal:
—Dark matter particle hits another dark matter particle and annihilates.
—Annihilation produces Standard Model [already discovered 4 percent type] particles.
—Not dark!

After that there’s a page headed, in nearly inch-high letters:


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