Powering the Future

Lecture of and interview with Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin

Moderation: Gerald Traufetter from the weekly journal „Der Spiegel“

© Basic Books, New York

Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 8 p.m.

Haus der Berliner Festspiele

Schaperstrasse 24
10719 Berlin

U9 Spichernstrasse

Even the most unreconstructed fossil fuel apologists will admit that in 200 years, oil and coal will probably be found mainly in museum exhibits. How those museums will keep the lights on is still anyone's guess, but physicist Robert B. Laughlin is optimistic that humanity will have plenty of options by the time the last drop of petroleum is gone.

The end of fossil fuel - and the terrible warfare that might accompany it - is an event only a few generations away. The central premise of Powering the Future is that we travel to a time, roughly two centuries from now, when nobody burns carbon out of the ground any more, either because they've banned the practice or because it's gone, and ask: What happened?

Events that will take place many generations from now obviously don't threaten any living person's incomes or livelihoods. They can therefore be talked about abstractly, and without bringing up the rather more important (to most people) matter of who is going to pay for what. The book's prose is filled with humor (some of it obviously black) for a reason.

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Robert B. Laughlin

Robert B. Laughlin © Kyu-Chul Lee

Robert B. Laughlin  was born in Visalia, California. He earned a B.A. in Mathematics from UC Berkeley in 1972, and his Ph.D. in physics in 1979 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Since 1989, Laughlin is Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University. Along with Horst L. Störmer and Daniel C. Tsui, he was awarded a share of the 1998 Nobel Prize in physics for their explanation of the fractional quantum Hall effect.

More information on Robert B. Laughlin: Wikipedia