Skip to main content


Wonder and Knowledge: A Discussion About What Lies At The Roots Of Scientific Discovery

A discussion with Marco Bersanelli, Piermaria Oddone, and Alvin Tollestrup about what lies at the roots of scientific discovery on the occasion of the publication by Templeton Press of From Galileo to Gell-Mann: The Wonder that Inspired the Greatest Scientists of All Time: In Their Own Words by Marco Bersanelli.

Professors Bersanelli, Oddone and Tollestrup are all accomplished scientists and deep thinkers about the meaning and value of the scientific enterprise. If we must try and point out a common feature of their work, we will notice they all view science as a deeply human activity. To them, science does not stand in isolation, separate from the rest of human experience, but rather is deeply rooted in life. The speakers explored what lies at the root of true science and the role of wonder in the process of knowledge, by facing one of the most fascinating topics that has always captivated humankind's attention—the origin of the universe.

Piermaria J. Oddone is a particle physicist born in Peru. Oddone earned his bachelor's degree in Physics at the MIT in 1965 and a PhD in Physics from Princeton in 1970. From 1972 Oddone worked at the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In 1987 he was appointed Director of the Physics Division at Berkeley Lab, and later became the Laboratory Deputy Director for scientific programs. In 2005 he was appointed director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab).  Oddone received the 2005 Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics for the invention of the Asymmetric B-Factory to carry out precision measurements of CP violation in B-meson decays.

Marco Bersanelli is Associate Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Director of the Ph.D. School in Physics, Astrophysics and Applied Physics at the University of Milan, Italy. His main field of research is cosmology, in particular observations of the cosmic microwave background, the relic radiation from the early universe. After graduating at University of Milan (1986) he worked as a Visiting Scholar at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, University of California, with Professor George Smoot, and then at Istituto di Fisica Cosmica, CNR, Milano. He worked on several experiments on the cosmic microwave background, including two expeditions to the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole. In 1991 he received the National Science Foundation Medal in recognition of his work in Antactica. Since 1992 he has been playing a leading role in the PLANCK space mission.

Alvin Tollestrup began his particle physics career as a graduate student in 1946 at Caltech and remained there as a professor and experimental physicist for 25 years. In 1975 he arrived at Fermilab on sabbatical, intending to stay only six months. He began working on superconducting accelerator technology and his short stay became a 30-year career at the Laboratory. During these years Tollestrup played a significant role in the development of the Tevatron as the world's leading high-energy physics accelerator. His early work at Fermilab led to the trailblazing design, testing and commissioning of 1,000 superconducting magnets into the Energy Doubler/Saver, the first large-scale application of superconductivity. For this achievement he was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1989.



Recorded Monday, September 28, 2009 at DePaul University.

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.