Even Einstein didn’t understand gravity

“Everybody knows what gravity is, but nobody quite understands it,” says Professor Matt Visser.

“From Newton to Einstein to Hawking, physicists have been developing and extending our ideas of what gravity is and how it should be described. In particular, physicists have spent the last 50 years trying to merge quantum physics with Einstein’s ideas on gravity,” he says.

Professor Visser, from the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Operations Research, was awarded one of four prestigious James Cook Research Fellowships, providing funding of $110,000 a year for two years.

Professor Visser will use his funding to explore some of the mysteries of the universe—including gravity. He will research the ‘borderlands’ between gravity and quantum physics, helping to answer questions concerning the quantum evaporation of black holes, and why 60 percent of the universe has virtually nothing in it.

“Galaxies, planets and stars seem to clump together while huge parts of space are empty, what we term the voids of the universe,” says Professor Visser.

“I’m also looking at whether we can successfully quantize gravity, where exactly the Hawking radiation that is predicted to cause black hole evaporation is created, and various topics in cosmology.

“The nature and quantity of dark energy in the universe, and its precise relationship to the accelerating expansion of the universe, continues to provide serious scientific puzzles; as does the precise nature of dark matter and its relation to galaxy structure.”

Professor Visser says these closely related areas are of fundamental physical and astrophysical significance.

Professor Visser will use high-powered mathematics—“tools such as differential geometry and Einstein’s theories”—to undertake the research. He will be working with international colleagues from Spain and Italy.

“The best thing about exploring a number of different—though connected—questions, is that if you temporarily get stuck on one, you can simply keep going on another.”

James Cook Research Fellowships are administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of government and are awarded to researchers who have achieved national and international recognition in their area of scientific research.