Carlo Rovelli

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Carlo Rovelli
Carlo Rovelli crop.jpg
Born (1956-05-03) 3 May 1956 (age 63)
Verona, Italy
ResidenceMarseille, France
Alma mater
Known for
AwardsPrix du Rayonnement International (2004)
Scientific career
FieldsTheoretical physics
Doctoral advisorMarco Toller
InfluencesChris Isham
Carlo Rovelli signature.jpg

Carlo Rovelli (born 3 May 1956) is an Italian theoretical physicist and writer who has worked in Italy, the United States, and since 2000 in France.[1] He works mainly in the field of quantum gravity, and is a founder of loop quantum gravity theory. He has also worked in the history and philosophy of science. He collaborates with several Italian newspapers, including the cultural supplements of the Corriere della Sera, Il Sole 24 Ore, and La Repubblica.

His popular-science book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics has been translated into 41 languages[2] and has sold over a million copies worldwide.[3] In 2019 he was included by Foreign Policy magazine in a list of 100 most influential global thinkers.[4]

Life and career[edit]

Carlo Rovelli was born in Verona, Italy, in 1956. He attended the Liceo Classico Scipione Maffei in Verona. In the 1970s, he participated in the student political movements in Italian universities. He was involved with the free political radio stations Radio Alice in Bologna and Radio Anguana in Verona, which he helped found.[5] In conjunction with his political activity, he was charged, but later released, for crimes of opinion related to the book Fatti Nostri, which he co-authored with Enrico Palandri, Maurizio Torrealta, and Claudio Piersanti.[6]

In 1981, Rovelli graduated with a BS/MS in Physics from the University of Bologna, and in 1986 he obtained his PhD at the University of Padova, Italy. Rovelli refused military service, which was compulsory in Italy at the time, and was therefore briefly detained in 1987.[7] He held postdoctoral positions at the University of Rome, University of Trieste, and at Yale University. Rovelli was on the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh from 1990 to 2000.[8] He currently works in the Centre de Physique Théorique de Luminy of Aix-Marseille University.[9][10] He has also held the post of Affiliated Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science of the University of Pittsburgh.

Main contributions[edit]

Loop quantum gravity[edit]

In 1988, Carlo Rovelli, Lee Smolin, and Abhay Ashtekar introduced a theory of quantum gravity called loop quantum gravity. In 1995, Rovelli and Smolin obtained a basis of states of quantum gravity, labelled by Penrose's spin networks, and using this basis they were able to show that the theory predicts that area and volume are quantized. This result indicates the existence of a discrete structure of space at very small scale. In 1997, Rovelli and Michael Reisenberger introduced a "sum over surfaces" formulation of theory, which has since evolved into the currently covariant "spinfoam" version of loop quantum gravity. In 2008, in collaboration with Jonathan Engle and Roberto Pereira, he has introduced the spin foam vertex amplitude which is the basis of the current definition of the loop quantum gravity covariant dynamics. The loop theory is today considered a candidate for a quantum theory of gravity. It finds applications in quantum cosmology, spinfoam cosmology, and quantum black hole physics.

Physics without time[edit]

In his 2004 book Quantum Gravity, Rovelli developed a formulation of classical and quantum mechanics that does not make explicit reference to the notion of time. The timeless formalism is used to describe the world in the regimes where the quantum properties of the gravitational field cannot be disregarded. This is because the quantum fluctuation of spacetime itself makes the notion of time unsuitable for writing physical laws in the conventional form of evolution laws in time.

This position led him to face the following problem: if time is not part of the fundamental theory of the world, then how does time emerge? In 1993, in collaboration with Alain Connes, Rovelli proposed a solution to this problem called the thermal time hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, time emerges only in a thermodynamic or statistical context. If this is correct, the flow of time is an illusion, one deriving from the incompleteness of knowledge.

Relational quantum mechanics[edit]

In 1994, Rovelli introduced the relational interpretation of quantum mechanics, based on the idea that the quantum state of a system must always be interpreted relative to another physical system (like the "velocity of an object" is always relative to another object, in classical mechanics). The idea has been developed and analyzed in particular by Bas van Fraassen[11] and by Michel Bitbol. Among other important consequences, it provides a solution of the EPR paradox that does not violate locality.[12]

History and philosophy of science[edit]

Carlo Rovelli, Rome 2015

Rovelli has written a book on the Greek philosopher Anaximander, published in France,[13] Italy,[14] US[15] and Brazil. The book analyses the main aspects of scientific thinking and articulates Rovelli's views on science. Anaximander is presented in the book as a main initiator of scientific thinking.

For Rovelli, science is a continuous process of exploring novel possible views of the world;[16] this happens via a "learned rebellion," which always builds and relies on previous knowledge but at the same time continuously questions aspects of this received knowledge.[17] The foundation of science, therefore, is not certainty but the very opposite, a radical uncertainty about our own knowledge, or equivalently, an acute awareness of the extent of our ignorance.[17]

Religious views[edit]

Rovelli discusses his religious views in several articles and in his book on Anaximander. He argues that the conflict between rational/scientific thinking and structured religion may find periods of truce ("there is no contradiction between solving Maxwell's equations and believing that God created Heaven and Earth"),[18] but it is ultimately unsolvable because (most) religions demand the acceptance of some unquestionable truths while scientific thinking is based on the continuous questioning of any truth. Thus, for Rovelli the source of the conflict is not the pretense of science to give answers—the universe, for Rovelli, is full of mystery and a source of awe and emotions—but, on the contrary, the source of the conflict is the acceptance of our ignorance at the foundation of science, which clashes with religions' pretense to be depositories of certain knowledge.[18]

Main awards[edit]

  • 1995 International Xanthopoulos Award of the International Society for General Relativity and Gravitation, "for outstanding contributions to theoretical physics"[19]
  • Senior member of the Institut Universitaire de France (IUF)
  • Laurea Honoris Causa Universitad de San Martin a Buenos Aires[20]
  • Honorary Professor of the Beijing Normal University in China
  • Member of the Académie Internationale de Philosophie des Sciences
  • Honorary member of the Accademia di Scienze Arti e Lettere di Verona
  • 2009 First "community" prize of the FQXi contest on the "nature of time"
  • 2013 Second prize of the FQXi contest on the "relation between physics and information"
  • 2014 Premio Letterario Merck [it] for the book "Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity"
  • 2015 Premio Pagine di Scienza di Rosignano for the book "Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity"[21]
  • 2015 Premio Alassio centolibri per l’informazione culturale[22]
  • 2015 Premio Larderello[23]
  • 2015 Premio letterario Galileo per la divulgazione scientifica [it] for the book "Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity".

Popular culture[edit]

Books and articles[edit]

Carlo Rovelli has authored more than 200 scientific articles published in international journals. He has published two monographs on loop quantum gravity and several popular science books. His book, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, has been translated into 41 languages.

Scientific books[edit]

  • Quantum Gravity, Cambridge University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-521-83733-2
  • with Francesca Vidotto, Covariant Loop Quantum Gravity: An Elementary Introduction to Quantum Gravity and Spinfoam Theory, Cambridge University Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1107069626

Popular books[edit]

Main scientific papers[edit]


  1. ^ "Resume" (PDF).
  2. ^ en:List of literary works by number of translations
  3. ^ Carlo Rovelli (2017-07-25). "Carlo Rovelli: 'I felt the beautiful adventure of physics was a story that had to be told'". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  4. ^ "2019 Global Thinkers". 2019-01-12.
  5. ^ Carlo Rovelli, "Fatti Nostri".
  6. ^ "Fatti Nostri", Bertani editore, 1977, (re-edited Rimini, Nda Press, 2007), ISBN 978-88-89035-17-7
  7. ^ Carlo Rovelli, "Cos'è il tempo? Cos'è lo spazio?".
  8. ^[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Laurent, Lionel (29 February 2008). "Is Time Just A Trick Of The Mind?". Retrieved 4 January 2011.
  10. ^ "Carlo Rovelli forecasts the future". New Scientist. Retrieved 4 January 2011.
  11. ^ van Fraassen, Bas C. (11 July 2009). "Rovelli's World" (PDF). Foundations of Physics. 40 (4): 390–417. Bibcode:2010FoPh...40..390V. doi:10.1007/s10701-009-9326-5.
  12. ^ Smerlak, Matteo; Rovelli, Carlo (3 February 2007). "Relational EPR". Foundations of Physics. 37 (3): 427–445. arXiv:quant-ph/0604064. Bibcode:2007FoPh...37..427S. doi:10.1007/s10701-007-9105-0.
  13. ^ Carlo Rovelli, "Anaximandre de Millet, ou la naissance de la science", Dunod, 2009
  14. ^ Carlo Rovelli, "Che cos'è la scienza. La rivoluzione di Anassimandro", Mondadori Università, 2011
  15. ^ Carlo Rovelli, "The first scientist. Anaximander and his legacy", Westholme Publishing, 2011
  16. ^ "Anaximandre de Millet, ou la naissance de la science", pg. 180.
  17. ^ a b "Anaximandre de Millet, ou la naissance de la science", pg. 75.
  18. ^ a b "The First Scientist", pg. 153.
  19. ^ "Award list".
  20. ^ "Carlo Rovelli, doctor Honoris Causa de la UNSAM » Noticias UNSAM". (in Spanish). Retrieved 2018-04-06.
  21. ^ "Il progetto Pagine di scienza premia il prof Rovelli - Cronaca - il Tirreno". il Tirreno (in Italian). 2015-03-23. Retrieved 2018-04-06.
  22. ^ "consegnato a Carlo Rovelli il premio "Alassio per l'Informazione Culturale" – il giornale di Savona e provincia". il giornale di Savona e provincia (in Italian). Retrieved 2018-04-06.
  23. ^ "Il quarto Premio Larderello al fisico Carlo Rovelli - Cronaca - il Tirreno". il Tirreno (in Italian). 2015-08-18. Retrieved 2018-04-06.
  24. ^ Topolino n. 3175, 2016.
  25. ^ Benedict Cumberbatch Meets Albert Einstein in Carlo Rovelli’s New Audiobook
  26. ^ Professor Carlo Rovelli
  27. ^

External links[edit]

External video
Did you know your head ages more quickly than your feet? Interview with Carlo Rovelli, Matter Of Fact With Stan Grant, ABC News