Thoughts of a theoretical physicist: Sir Tom Kibble

Sir Tom KibbleProfessor Sir Tom Kibble is one of the world’s most respected particle physicists. He narrowly missed out on a share of the 2013 Nobel prize for physics, and has a raft of awards to his name.

His latest publication with co-author Professor Tanmay Vachaspati titled ‘Monopoles on Strings‘ is the first of JPhysG’s 40th anniversary articles.

We decided to ask him a few questions.

What research projects are you and your group currently working on?

I don’t really have a group now. Though I am involved in some small projects, I am not seriously engaged in any significant research.  Most of the talks I have been giving are on historical topics.  However, my co-author, Tanmay Vachaspati (Arizona State University) certainly is heavily engaged in research.  In particular, he is working on cosmological magnetic fields and their relation to fundamental interactions in the very early universe. These ideas have grown out of our early work on topological defects. Another topic that he is pursuing is the production of topological objects, such as magnetic monopoles, in the laboratory.

Monopoles on Strings

Three cases of monopoles on strings; blue and red dots represent monopoles and antimonopoles respectively.

What motivated you to pursue this field of research?

My first love was mathematics. But when I was coming to the end of my undergraduate studies in Edinburgh, the work that was then going on in the Mathematical Physics Department seemed much more exciting than in pure mathematics.  It was a great time for particle physics, with an avalanche of new experimental data and rapid advances in theory.

Where do you think the field is heading?

It is very hard to say where the field is now heading.  The discovery of the Higgs boson brings one era to a close.  The Standard Model now seems essentially complete and astonishingly well verified.  But we know that it is far from the last word.  There are many things it does not explain, like dark matter or gravity.  However, we have very few clues about where to look for its replacement, though there are many hypotheses.  We are eagerly waiting for some indication from the upgraded LHC or one of the underground experiments.

What current problem facing humanity would you like science to provide a solution to?

There is no real doubt that the biggest problem facing mankind is climate change. The basic scientific facts are already well known; what is needed is political will.  I am certainly not a fan of grandiose technological solutions.  But more science can certainly help.  For example, one of the biggest obstacles to the rapid conversion to renewable energy is the lack of cheap, efficient energy storage.  Solving that problem would be a huge boon.

What interests you outside of science?

I have been very interested in politics, particularly concerning the social impact of science.  I was at one time a very active campaigner against the use or manufacture of nuclear weapons.  I have also greatly enjoyed cycling and walking.

Who inspired you to become a scientist?

The person with the biggest influence was undoubtedly my father, who was a Professor of Mathematics in India, with a particular interest in the geometric patterns beloved of the Mughal emperors. I was fascinated by the idea of symmetry from an early age.

And finally, tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I find it hard to know which facts about myself others would find interesting.  One fact is that I currently chair the Richmond Ramblers Group, though my own walks are now shorter and slower than they used to be.

JPhysG 40 Years anniversary logoKibble and Vachaspati’s paper ‘Monopoles on Strings‘ is part of a series of articles from renowned scientists celebrating 40 years of research in Journal of Physics G: Nuclear and Particle Physics. Forthcoming works cover the broad scope of the journal, and will include an article from the Glazebrook Medal winner and recent interviewee, Professor Sir Tejinder Virdee.

CC-BY logoThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Title image: Professor Sir Tom Kibble, from Imperial College London

Inset figure: Three cases of monopoles on strings, from T W B Kibble and Tanmay Vachaspati 2015 J. Phys. G: Nucl. Part. Phys. 42 094002, copyright IOP Publishing Ltd 2015.

Categories: Journal of Physics G: Nuclear and Particle Physics

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