A perfect theory: a biography of General Relativity

Thursday 3rd December 2015 @ 19:00

Non-Member: £12.00 ; Staff: £5.00 ; Student: £3.00

Pedro Ferreira, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Oxford, Author of The Perfect Theory, Imperial Alumnus

In the centenary year of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity Professor Ferreira tells the story of how our present understanding of space, time, and gravity has emerged over the century.

Einstein’s theory of general relativity is possibly the most perfect intellectual achievement of modern physics. For almost a century now, physicists have been delving into Einstein’s theory, seeking an understanding of the history of the universe, the origin of time, and the evolution of solar systems, stars, and galaxies. The expanding universe, the light-speed barrier, black holes, wormholes, time travel—general relativity has allowed scientists’ imaginations to take flight with new possibilities, revealing a universe that is much stranger than anyone ever expected.
Professor Pedro Ferreira’s The Perfect Theory explains just how staggering an achievement general relativity was while bringing to life the infighting that it sparked in the field of physics over the past century.

Professor Ferreira has written for Nature, Science, New Scientist, Physics World, Physics Today, Scientific American, Sky at Night, CERN Courier, BBC Focus, The Guardian. He has appeared in documentaries on Channel 4, BBC, Natural Geographic, Arte Channel and BBC Radio 4.

The Perfect Theory - comments and reviews

“Einstein's beautiful theory is almost a century old, and its ramifications have stimulated a crescendo of discovery ever since. It is now, more than ever, one of the liveliest frontiers of science. Pedro G. Ferreira describes, accessibly and non-technically, how the key breakthroughs have been made, and the personalities who made them. Even readers with zero scientific background will enjoy this finely written survey of one of the greatest of recent scientific endeavours, and get a real feel for the social and human aspects of science.”

Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal

“Einstein's general relativity is a theory of unrivaled elegance and simplicity. But the history of general relativity is messy, unpredictable, and occasionally dramatic. Pedro G. Ferreira is an expert guide to the twists and turns scientists have gone through in a quest to understand space and time “— Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist and author of The Particle at the End of the Universe
“The Perfect Theory is a rollicking good read. We watch as Einstein's brilliant successors struggle and squabble about everything from black holes to quantum gravity. With crisp explanations and narrative flair, Ferreira offers us a fun, fresh take on a magnificent part of modern science.”

Steven Strogatz, Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Cornell University, and author of The Joy of x

“With palpable delight, Ferreira details false starts, chance discoveries, and the vindication of long-ridiculed ideas that emerged from the work that predicted singularities, M-theory, and dark energy . . . Ferreira's clear explanations offer a wonderful look into a world of those who tackle the hard math that is "the key to understanding the history of the universe, the origin of time, and the evolution of . . . the cosmos."

Publishers Weekly

“Ferreira lucidly sketches several attempts to generalize Einstein’s theory, including string theory, which both describes gravity and offers an explanation of why it exists. Although enormously promising and mathematically rich, string theory is unpopular among some physicists in part because of the extreme difficulty of putting it to test, at least in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, good old general relativity — once regarded as too recondite to be worth studying — is now the framework for planning and interpreting many astronomical experiments, as Ferreira describes in a moving coda.”

Graham Farmelo, Nature


Ferreira's field of expertise is theoretical cosmology and astrophysics. He works on the origin of large scale structure in the Universe, on the general theory of relativity and on the nature of dark matter and dark energy'.

"My research focuses on the interplay between theoretical and observational cosmology.  Throughout my research career I have worked on a wide variety of topics: the origin of structure due to cosmological defects, the origin and evolution of primordial magnetic fields, the large scale structure of space-time (such as topology and geometry), theories of dark energy and dark matter, techniques for analysis of cosmological data sets (primarily the cosmic microwave background but also galaxy surveys and large scale flows), the development of pipelines for cosmic microwave background (CMB) experiments, statistical methods in cosmology and astrophysics. As a result I have been (and still am) a key member on a number of international collaborations: MAXIMA, BOOMERanG, CBI, QUIET and Clover."

Professor Pedro Ferreira


Optionally followed by supper (this can be booked on the event booking form).
After the lecture a Friends' Table has been reserved at a local restaurant to entertain the speaker and for any of the audience who would like to join us to continue the evening's discussion. A two-course fixed price supper is served including wine, coffee and service charge.
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Venue: SAF Building, Imperial College London

Campus Map reference 33
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