Paul Davies

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Paul Davies
Davies in 2016
Born Paul Charles William Davies
(1946-04-22) 22 April 1946 (age 78)
London, England
Nationality British
Alma mater University College London
Known for Fulling–Davies–Unruh effect
Bunch–Davies vacuum state
Awards Templeton Prize (1995)
Kelvin Medal (2001)
Faraday Prize (2002)
Klumpke-Roberts Award (2011)
Scientific career
Fields Physicist
Institutions Arizona State University
University of Cambridge
University of Adelaide
Macquarie University
University of Newcastle
Thesis Contributions to theoretical physics: (i) Radiation damping in the optical continuum; (ii) A quantum theory of Wheeler–Feynman electrodynamics (1970)
Doctoral advisor Michael J. Seaton[1]
Sigurd Zienau
Other academic advisors Fred Hoyle (postdoc advisor)

Paul Charles William Davies, AM (born 22 April 1946) is an English physicist, writer and broadcaster, a professor at Arizona State University as well as the Director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. He is affiliated with the Institute for Quantum Studies at Chapman University in California. He has held previous academic appointments at the University of Cambridge, University College London, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, University of Adelaide and Macquarie University. His research interests are in the fields of cosmology, quantum field theory, and astrobiology. He has proposed that a one-way trip to Mars could be a viable option.

In 2005, he took up the chair of the SETI: Post-Detection Science and Technology Taskgroup of the International Academy of Astronautics. He is also an adviser to the Microbes Mind Forum.

Education[edit | hide all | hide | edit source]

Davies was brought up in Finchley, London. He attended Woodhouse Grammar School and then studied physics at University College London, gaining a first class Bachelor of Science degree in 1967.

In 1970, he completed his PhD under the supervision of Michael J. Seaton and Sigurd Zienau at University College London.[1][2] He then carried out postdoctoral research under Fred Hoyle at the University of Cambridge.

Scientific research[edit | hide | edit source]

Davies' inquiries have included theoretical physics, cosmology, and astrobiology; his research has been mainly in the area of quantum field theory in curved spacetime. His notable contributions are the so-called Fulling–Davies–Unruh effect, according to which an observer accelerating through empty space will be subject to a bath of induced thermal radiation, and the Bunch–Davies vacuum state, often used as the basis for explaining the fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation left over from the big bang. A paper co-authored with Stephen Fulling and William Unruh was the first to suggest that black holes evaporating via the Hawking effect lose mass as a result of a flux of negative energy streaming into the hole from the surrounding space. Davies has had a longstanding association with the problem of time's arrow, and was also an early proponent of the theory that life on Earth may have come from Mars cocooned in rocks ejected by asteroid and comet impacts. During his time in Australia he helped establish the Australian Centre for Astrobiology.

Davies was a co-author of Felisa Wolfe-Simon on the Science article "A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus".[3] Reports refuting the most significant aspects of the original results were published in the same journal in 2012, including by researchers from the University of British Columbia and Princeton University.[4]

Davies is Principal Investigator at Arizona State University's Center for Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology. This is part of a program set up by the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute to involve physicists in cancer research which has set up a network of 12 Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers.[5][6][7]

Awards[edit | hide | edit source]

Davies' talent as a communicator of science has been recognized in Australia by an Advance Australia Award and two Eureka Prizes, and in the UK by the 2001 Kelvin Medal and Prize by the Institute of Physics, and the 2002 Faraday Prize by The Royal Society. Davies received the Templeton Prize in 1995.

Davies was made a member of the Order of Australia in the 2007 Queen's birthday honours list.

The asteroid 6870 Pauldavies is named after him.

Media work[edit | hide | edit source]

Davies writes and comments on scientific and philosophical issues. He made a documentary series for BBC Radio 3, and two Australian television series, The Big Questions and More Big Questions. His BBC documentary The Cradle of Life featured the subject of his Faraday Prize lecture. He writes regularly for newspapers and magazines worldwide. He has been guest on numerous radio and television programmes including the children's podcast programme Ask A Biologist.

A 2007 opinion piece "Taking Science on Faith" in the New York Times,[8] generated controversy over its exploration of the role of faith in scientific inquiry. Davies argued that the faith scientists have in the immutability of physical laws has origins in Christian theology, and that the claim that science is "free of faith" is "manifestly bogus."[8] The Edge Foundation presented a criticism of Davies' article written by Jerry Coyne, Nathan Myhrvold, Lawrence Krauss, Scott Atran, Sean Carroll, Jeremy Bernstein, PZ Myers, Lee Smolin, John Horgan, Alan Sokal and a response by Davies beginning I was dismayed at how many of my detractors completely misunderstood what I had written. Indeed, their responses bore the hallmarks of a superficial knee-jerk reaction to the sight of the words "science" and "faith" juxtaposed.[9] While atheists Richard Dawkins[10] and Victor J. Stenger[11] have criticised Davies' public stance on science and religion, others, including the John Templeton Foundation, have praised his work.

Davies wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal describing the background to the December 2010 arsenic bacteria press conference and stating that he supported the finding of Felisa Wolfe-Simon that arsenic can replace phosphorus because "I had the advantage of being unencumbered by knowledge. I dropped chemistry at the age of 16, and all I knew about arsenic came from Agatha Christie novels."[12] He also made the statement, "Well, I would be astonished if this was the only arsenic-based organism on Earth and Felisa just happened to scrape it up from the bottom of Mono Lake on the first try, It's quite clear that it is the tip of an iceberg. I think it's a window into a whole new world of microbiology. And as a matter of fact, she already has 20 or so candidate other organisms that we're very anxious to take a look at. I think we're going to see a whole new domain of life here." [13] It was later independently demonstrated that the organism's DNA contained no arsenic at all.[14][15][16][17] In a similar vein, a 2013 article in The Guardian by Davies suggested that the origin of life will be uncovered through information theory rather than chemistry.[18] Concerns have been raised about his responsibility as one of Wolfe-Simon's co-authors.[19]

In popular culture[edit | hide | edit source]

  • The novel Naive, Super, by Norwegian writer Erlend Loe (translated by Tor Ketil Solberg), published in 1996, refers to Davies frequently.
  • Numbers (season 5, episode 12) refers to Paul Davies' Cosmic Think Tank at Arizona State.
  • Lawrence Leung's Unbelievable (season 1, episode 3), Leung interviews Paul Davies on Alien abduction, where Paul admits to having experienced sleep paralysis.
  • The novel The Extinction Machine, by American writer Jonathan Maberry, published in 2013, refers to Paul Davies.
  • Paul Davies' book "How to Build a Time Machine" was the primary influence on the song Time Machine Fix by the independent rock band Blue Eyed Infidels. Davies is mentioned by name in the song as someone to consult about fixing the past using the knowledge of time travel.

Works[edit | hide | edit source]

Popular books[edit | hide | edit source]

Technical books[edit | hide | edit source]

  • 1974 The Physics of Time Asymmetry, University of California Press, Berkeley California,
  • 1982 (with N. D. Birrell) Quantum Fields in Curved Space, Series: Cambridge Monographs on Mathematical Physics, Cambridge University Press.[20]
  • 1984 Quantum Mechanics, (with David S. Betts), 2nd edition, CRC Press, 1994.

Essays and papers[edit | hide | edit source]

Footnotes[edit | hide | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Paul Davies at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  2. Davies, Paul (1970). Contributions to theoretical physics: (i) Radiation damping in the optical continuum; (ii) A quantum theory of Wheeler–Feynham electrodynamics (PhD thesis). University College London. (subscription required)
  3. Wolfe-Simon, F.; Blum, J. S.; Kulp, T. R.; Gordon, G. W.; Hoeft, S. E.; Pett-Ridge, J.; Stolz, J. F.; Webb, S. M.; Weber, P. K.; Davies, P. C. W.; Anbar, A. D.; Oremland, R. S. (2011). "A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus". Science. 332 (6034): 1163–1166. Bibcode:2011Sci...332.1163W. doi:10.1126/science.1197258. PMID 21127214. 
  4. Erb, T. J.; Kiefer, P.; Hattendorf, B.; Gunther, D.; Vorholt, J. A. (2012). "GFAJ-1 is an Arsenate-Resistant, Phosphate-Dependent Organism". Science. 337 (6093): 467–470. Bibcode:2012Sci...337..467E. doi:10.1126/science.1218455. PMID 22773139. 
  5. "Center for Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology". Retrieved 28 June 2013. 
  6. Davies, Paul (18 November 2012). "Cancer can teach us about our own evolution". The Guardian. 
  7. Davies, Paul (19 Jun 2013). "Cancer from a physicist's perspective: a new theory of cancer". New Scientist. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Davies, Paul (2007-11-24). "Taking Science on Faith". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-02. 
  9. Jerry Coyne; Nathan Myhrvold; Lawrence Krauss; Scott Atran; Sean Carroll; Jeremy Bernstein; PZ Myers; Lee Smolin; John Horgan; Alan Sokal. "On "Taking Science on Faith" by Paul C. Davies". Retrieved 2010-09-28. 
  10. Richard Dawkins (2006). "A Deeply Religious Non-Believer". The God Delusion. Mariner Books. pp. 31–50. ISBN 978-0-618-91824-9. 
  11. Victor J. Stenger. "Review of The Cosmic Blueprint". Science & Theology News. University of Colorado. Archived from the original on 7 June 2010. 
  12. Davies, Paul (4 December 2010). "The 'Give Me a Job' Microbe". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 5 December 2010. 
  14. "Studies refute arsenic bug claim". BBC News. 9 July 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  15. Tobias J. Erb; Patrick Kiefer; Bodo Hattendorf; Detlef Gunter; et al. (8 July 2012). "GFAJ-1 Is an Arsenate-Resistant, Phosphate-Dependent Organism". Science. 337 (6093): 467–70. Bibcode:2012Sci...337..467E. doi:10.1126/science.1218455. PMID 22773139. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  16. RRResearch By Rosie Redfield. 16 January 2012
  17. Marshall Louis Reaves; Sunita Sinha; Joshua Rabinowitz; Leonid Kruglyak; et al. (8 July 2012). "Absence of Detectable Arsenate in DNA from Arsenate-Grown GFAJ-1 Cells". Science. 337 (6093): 470–3. arXiv:1201.6643Freely accessible. Bibcode:2012Sci...337..470R. doi:10.1126/science.1219861. PMC 3845625Freely accessible. PMID 22773140. Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  18. Davies, Paul (13 January 2013). "The secret of life won't be cooked up in a chemistry lab". The Guardian. London. 
  20. Ørsted, Bent (1983). "Review: Quantum Fields in Curved Space, by N. D. Birrell and P. C. W. Davies" (PDF). Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. (N.S.). 8 (3): 471–477. doi:10.1090/s0273-0979-1983-15124-8. 

External links[edit | hide | edit source]

Videos[edit | hide | edit source]

On an Ultimate Explanation:

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