Jupiter Scientific's List of
(Please come back periodically as information will be added from time to time)
The Greatest Unsolved Problems in Science
A lot about the world has been
learned during the past
few centuries, but some mysteries still remain. Apparently, Nature
has not revealed to us all her secrets but scientists are
hard at work trying to decipher them.
On August 28, 1999, National Public Radio's
Science Friday program
presented some of the greatest unsolved problems in science. Here
is Jupiter Scientific's list.
More detailed information will
be provided in the coming months, so come back and find out more.
In Astronomy: The
Mystery of Dark Matter
What Is Dark Matter?
Astronomers have discovered that there is an amazing
halo of mysterious invisible material that engulfs
galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Astronomers have
no idea what it is, and it composes about 95% of the
mass of the Universe.
If It's Invisible, Then
How Does One Sense Its Existence?
Astronomers have detected dark matter indirectly through
its gravitational pull. For example, dark matter causes
the stars in the outer regions of a galaxy to orbit faster
than they would if there was only ordinary matter present.
What Are Some of the
Speculations as to Its Composition?
If neutrinos have mass, they might be a component of dark
matter. Black holes and undiscovered, exotic elementary
particles are other possibilities.
Why Is Dark Matter
Dark matter played a crucial role in galaxy formation during
the evolution of the cosmos. It also determines the ultimate
fate of the Universe.
Click here for
additional information about dark matter.
To read a transcipt of a radio broadcast on dark matter,
What Is the Difficulty?
The theory of gravity as formulated by Einstein is
incompatible with the rules of quantum mechanics. Theorists
encounter serious difficulties when trying to construct
a quantum version of gravity.
How Would Our Understanding
of Gravity Be Affected?
A quantum gravity theory would lead to few noticeable
effects in the macroscopic world. At distances much, much
smaller than an atom, however, Einstein's gravity theory
would be significantly changed.
Why Is This Problem Important?
Quantum mechanics and gravity are two great pillars
of science. The marriage of these two principles would
create a new fundamental understanding of Nature. There
could also be implications for black holes.
For a more detailed discussion, click here.
What Is the Problem?
The masses of the electron, proton and neutron are
generated through what-is-called "electroweak breaking," but
particle physicists do not know how this breaking mechanism works.
Breaking" Affect the Macroscopic World?
Since all material is made of atoms and since atoms
are made of electrons, protons and neutrons, the "breaking" produces
the mass of everything.
When Are Scientists
Likely to Solve This Problem?
The Large Hadronic Collider, which is being built near
Geneva, Switzerland, should be completed around the
year 2005. By the end of the next decade, physicists
probably will know the answer.
Click here for more information. See also
the Jupiter Scientific report
on the Possible Discovery of the "God Particle".
In Theoretical High-Energy
Physics: The Unification of the Basic Forces
What Does Unification Mean?
Two seemingly different forces are unified when a
theory is found that combines them. The two forces
then become manifestations of a single theoretical structure.
What Are Some Examples
In the nineteenth century, scientists were able to unify
the electric and magnetic forces into one structure
called electromagnetism. In the 1960's, the weak subnuclear
force was united with electromagnetism to form the
electroweak theory, which was subsequently verified
in particle accelerator experiments.
Which Forces Have
Not Been Unified?
The two other fundamental forces gravity and the
strong nuclear force remain as independent, isolated
forces. However, theorists suspect, but do not know for
certain, that all the fundamental forces will emerge
from one theory. In
The Bible According to Einstein, this
theory is called the Uni-Law.
Are Other Forces Such as
All remaining forces friction, string tension, support
forces, the forces in springs, collision forces, atomic
forces, molecular forces, etc. are produced by the
fundamental forces. Therefore, it is only necessary to
unify the four fundamental interactions of
electromagnetism, gravity, the weak subnuclear force
and the strong nuclear force.
What Is the Best
Candidate for Unification?
String theory can potentially unified not only all the
fundamental forces but the elementary particles as well. To read
a short report about string theory,
What Is a GUT?
GUT stands for grand unified theory. GUT's unite
electromagnetism, the weak subnuclear interaction and
the strong nuclear force into a single theory. Gravity
is not included. It is possible that a GUT theory will emerge
as part of the structure of string theory.
In Cosmology: The Creation
of the Universe
How Much Do Scientists
Know about the Beginning of the Universe?
Cosmologists have determined the general history of
the Universe starting from one-trillionth of a second
after creation. This great history story is told in
the "Old Testament" of
The Bible According to Einstein. To read a
comment by Stephen Hawking on the creation of the
universe, click here.
What is the Ultimate
Quest in Cosmology?
The big question is "How was our Universe born?" and "What
happened when the Universe first emerged just after the very
instant of creation?"
Is Anything Known about
the Universe before One-Trillionth of a Second?
At very early times, it is suspected that the fabric of
space underwent a tremendous stretching that caused the
radiation and material in the Universe to disperse. This
idea is called inflation. For more information, see the
on The Inflationary Universe
What Needs to Be Known
to Understand Creation?
At times less than 10-43 seconds a
period known as the Planck Epoch the Universe was
so tiny that gravitational quantum effects were
important. To understand the Universe during the
Planck Epoch, one needs a quantum theory of gravity.
In Biology: How the Basic
Processes of Life
Are Carried Out by DNA and Proteins
What is DNA?
DNA encodes biological molecules (such
that either control fundamental biological processes or
make up basic structures of life.
What Is the Challenge?
Sometime in the early 21st century, the DNA sequences
of many life forms including humans will be determined.
See the Jupiter Scientific report on the genome project.
The great problem is to determine what all the proteins do and how
one can reproduce life from this knowledge.
How Important Is It
to Understand DNA?
To understand DNA is to understand life at
a fundamental level.
How Will This
Knowledge Affect Our Lives?
If biologists learn to manipulate the
DNA sequences at will, then they will be able
to change and create life. The technological benefits
will be staggering. The potential abuses could be horrific.
Neuroscience: Free Will
How Is It That
Humans Have the Freedom to Decide and Act?
Our brain and sensory organs allow us to respond to
our surroundings in a way that is not deterministic. We, humans, have
developed a remarkable ability to make decisions, to plan
our actions, and to decide, in part, our fates. But how
does this come about?
What Plays a
Role in Free Will?
Quantum mechanics must be involved to some extent. If the
world were not quantum mechanical, then the future
would be determined. The brain as a complex, dynamical
system is important. Learning and delayed response are
two other essential ingredients. The book of "The Evolution
of Intelligence" of
The Bible According to Einstein presents
some of these ideas.
Other Important Scientific Problems:
In Astrophysics: The Source of Gamma Ray Bursts
In Theoretical Cosmology and Particle Physics: The Cosmological
Constant Problem (A caller on the
Science Friday broadcast asked
a question about this important issue)
Update: Recent observations indicate that the Universe is accelerating and
therefore a non-zero cosmological is likely. This increases the importance
of the cosmological constant problem. However, theorists have invented a
new solution call quintessence.
In Particle Physics and Astrophysics: The Solar Neutrino Problem
Update: This problem is most likely solved. There is strong evidence that
neutrinos have mass and that electron neutrinos emitted in the core of the Sun
transform into other neutrinos via oscillations on their way to the Earth.
In Solid State Physics: The Mechanism Behind
In Biology: Protein Folding
In Neuroscience: Consciousness (Floyd Bluhm, the editor of Science magazine, raised
this important issue in the
Science Friday broadcast)
In Paleontology: How Present-Day Microbiological
Information Can Be Used to Reconstruct "The Ancient Tree of Life"
In Geology: The Dynamics of the Inner Earth
In Geology: Earthquake Predicting
In Chemistry: How Microscopic Atomic Forces Produce
Various Macroscopic Behaviors
In Chemistry: The Fabrication and Manipulation of
Carbon-Based Structures (Fullerenes)
If you have a suggestion for this list of great
unsolved problems in science, please e-mail
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