Twins Eric and Hermann Verlind (60 years old) belong to the pinnacle of theoretical physics. Both are in Amsterdam at the same time. Their field represents major breakthroughs. “We have always felt that we have to follow our faith.”
We say “Hey Eric”. It turned out to be Hermann. A few minutes later, another blue-beige statue appeared in the central hall of Science Park, the University of Amsterdam’s Faculty of Science. They have the same white paper bread bag and they both order a cappuccino. Then the professors of theoretical physics try to get to the stairs, but the flight of twenty meters is difficult due to the constant interruptions; Many people talk to them.
Hermann Verlind is exceptionally located in the Netherlands. He usually walks around Princeton University in the United States. His brother Eric Verlind has been working for the UvA since 2003. The twins turned 60 this year. They look back and study a picture of themselves from 1988, at the age of 26, just before their Ph.D. at Utrecht University. They were part of the research group of Gerard ‘t Hooft, the famous theoretical physicist who later won the Nobel Prize. The brothers themselves had already made an international name for themselves, and were about to go out into the world.
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Why did you stand out so much in the Netherlands?
“It was a good time for us,” Hermann says. There was no internet. It took about three months before you really heard what was happening on the other side of the ocean in Holland. This gave us the opportunity to define our own research path for a period of time. It has emerged. New ideas arose, it was clear that Eric and I did it ourselves.
The brothers were fellow students of Robert Diggrave, who was now Minister of Education, Culture and Science, and then a forthcoming scholar like them. The three were called the “Three Musketeers” – they were inseparable.
Although they worked in the ‘t Hooft group, the Knights greatly preferred to operate independently of any form of authority. “Gerard T. Hooft was a critic of string theory,” Eric says. He didn’t really believe in him, and he wasn’t alone. People sometimes wonder if it is wise to work hard on this topic. How long will it last? Who knows, string theory will collapse and be ready in five years. It was considered a risk. But we felt there was something in it. We have always felt that we should follow our faith. And so it became very clear to the outside world that we did this independently of the moderators: our posts only had our own names.
Were you contradicting?
“Robert called us the rebel club,” Eric says. The institute in Utrecht has been fairly traditional, but we’re still going in the direction of string theory.
Hermann: We basically wanted to form our own identity. After a few weeks of being told not to work on string theory, I decided not to listen to it. We’ve learned from ‘t Hooft that we want to follow our own path. He has always been a pioneer and a role model for us.
In his third year of doctoral research, Hooft traveled across the United States. At universities, people rolled up their sleeves, saying, “We would like these PhD students to be there.” On their return, Hooft advised the brothers to complete their doctoral research – there was little point in staying for another year.
Theoretical physics was immature when I left for the United States. How did you see the field grow?
Eric: “After the promotion, we were able to go to Princeton. There we immediately found ourselves in the Mecca of the field. String theory had just gone through a revolution, and suddenly everyone started studying it. We were able to participate in it. But it is not yet clear whether the field is able to fulfill With all its promises.The great thing is that the field has already fulfilled many of its promises.Our view of the relationship between quantum mechanics and gravity is much further away now.
Hermann: The period after Princeton was very special as well. Seven years later, we are all back in Holland. Then, around 1995, it all started to go downhill. This field arose thanks to the work done in previous years. Hooft and Stephen Hawking have been solving problems with black holes for a long time, and then it turns out that there are answers to the questions.
And we organized the conference. Hermann points to a poster on the wall. Series 97, she says. With a beautiful illustration: the reflection of Amsterdam houses in the undulating water, as if a pebble had just been thrown into them. Drawing by Robert Decgrave. For the first time, a conference on string theory was not held in the United States, but in Europe, with big names. We had a kind of casual style, with a lecture in the morning and a long time for discussion afterwards. Reception at West-Indisch Huis. Top hats were interviewed and made headlines. Stephen Hawking himself scored – he was welcome. The Amsterdam group for Theoretical Physics really gained more insight in this way. We are now 25 years later and the conference is still held every two years in Europe. This year it is in Vienna.
You turned 60 this year, is it time to think about what you would like to achieve in science?
Hermann: “The great thing is that the steps taken in the 1990s suddenly became very important. We live in the information age, and thanks to the rules of physics, the world of “quantum information” is beginning to emerge now. A lot of questions that have been asked for a long time about black holes have to do with It’s still a very exciting time.
Eric: “The field has evolved tremendously, but fundamental questions are still important. How should you think of black holes? About cosmology? I see so many developments that I hope I can contribute a lot to get closer to the answer. In fact, I suspect we’re on the cusp of Getting a new answer to the big gravity questions–maybe in twenty or thirty years.I still want to try it.
What is string theory?
String theory or string theory is the theory that attempts to combine the four fundamental forces of nature in physics (electromagnetic force, strong and weak nuclear force and gravity) into one comprehensive theory. Robbert Dijkgraaf (62), now Minister of Education, Culture and Science, described the theory as follows: `String theory is the most extreme form of theoretical physics and the most important candidate for describing quantum mechanics of gravity. This is necessary because current theories, especially Einstein’s theory of relativity, are incomplete. String theory does not work with electrons or quarks, but with some kind of little elastic belt that can vibrate in all kinds of ways. All the different elementary particles around us will arise as vibrations of a single string, like the tones of a violin string. In this way gravity can be described according to the laws of quantum mechanics. With this starting point, string theory can describe very heavy and very small objects, such as black holes and the universe just after the Big Bang.
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