‘Back to the Future’
Michio Kaku discusses the effect of science over the next 100 years
Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 20:09
Michio Kaku’s journey to finishing Albert Einstein’s final manuscript started in his parents’ garage.
When he was in high school, Kaku built an atom collider that generated a magnetic field 20,000 times that of the earth, which is “enough to pull the fillings out of your teeth if you got too close to the machine.”
“My poor mom thought I was crazy building all these gigantic machines in the garage,” Kaku said. “But it got me a scholarship to Harvard and that set me off on this great journey to find out what was in that book.”
On Wednesday night, Kaku, a world-renowned physicist, futurist and popular science advocate, addressed a packed Alumni Arena as the inaugural speaker of the 27th annual Distinguished Speakers Series. He sat down with The Spectrum for an interview beforehand.
Kaku believes science is not a luxury but “an engine to all the wealth you see around you,” and he has taken on a role in popular science to push this point.
After graduating from Harvard in 1968 and receiving his Ph.D. from the University of California-Berkeley in 1972, Kaku has dedicated his career to popularizing science. He appeared in his first documentary, We Are the Guinea Pigs, in 1980 and has since appeared in many movies and TV shows.
He has discussed topics ranging from parallel universes to time travel to UFO sightings. He has also published seven books, including two New York Times Best Sellers, “Physics of the Impossible” and “Physics of the Future.” His next book, “The Future of the Mind,” is scheduled for publication in 2014.
Kaku is currently a physics professor at CUNY City College.
Kaku discussed physicists’ influence on the past through inventions like the laser and the transistor but brought comedy to his talk as well, quoting Yogi Berra and Woody Allen, often evoking waves of laughter from the audience.
Kaku also discussed his educational journey and what he thinks is wrong with the way physics is taught today.
Kaku’s journey was inspired by his two childhood heroes: Albert Einstein and Flash Gordon.
He admired Einstein for his life’s work but enjoyed Flash Gordon’s portrayal of the future.
It was Einstein’s unfinished manuscript that motivated Kaku to become a physicist. He wanted to learn not just how to read Einstein’s book, but also how to finish it. At the same time, he was in awe of the ray guns, starships, aliens and the technology of the future portrayed in the television show “Flash Gordon.”
“But then I began to realize that the two things are really the same – physics and the future,” Kaku said. “If you want to really understand the future – to get a time frame of what’s possible, what’s impossible, when might certain technologies come to fruition –you really have to have a grounding in physics.”
In his lecture, he attributed the economic booms and busts of the early 19th, 20th and 21st centuries to physicists’ inventions of the steam engine and internal combustion engine and their contributions to computer technology. He discussed how each stimulated the economy but also contributed to the economic collapses of their times.
His biggest point of emphasis was on the medical field, calling the 20th century “the century of physics” and saying the 21st century has the potential to be “the century of biology.”
Through research, Kaku expects scientists to unlock what he believes to be the most mysterious object in our galaxy: the human brain. The Human Brain Project, an exhaustive research initiative to discover exactly how the brain works, is being funded by the United States and the European Union similarly to the way the Human Genome Project was.
Kaku predicts the future will include organs that can be printed on demand with 3D printers using tissue samples from the patient who will receive the artificial organ. He said scientists have already been able to grow bladders that have been successfully transplanted.
To illustrate this point, Kaku showed a short video outlining the possibilities of future technology, not just in the medical field, but in other fields.