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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.


Encountering “God” on an Icelandic Mountaintop

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Jim GatesJim Gates recites a short story at “Toil and Trouble: Stories of Experiments Gone Wrong” at the World Science Festival held at The Moth at Symphony Space on May 29, 2008 in New York City. (photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

There are times in our worst hour when we discover that what will save us is just the thing we’ve been doing our whole lives. String theorist Jim Gates had one such epiphany, hearing an unembodied voice telling him to make his own trail while alone on a mountaintop in Iceland, clinging to his mortality. Check out this story from The Moth.


String Theorist S. James Gates: A Twitterscript

by Susan Leem, associate producer

S. James GatesS. James Gates is known for pioneering supersymmetry, a theory that could “explain some of the greatest mysteries of the universe, such as how elementary particles got their mass.” There’s actually a symmetry between these two fundamental entities that compose the universe, invisible partners with names like selectrons (partner of electrons) and photinos (partner of photons). Gates shares with us a scientist’s rich, connected way of looking at the universe, “where we become essential to the universe.”

We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation and have aggregated them below for those who weren’t able to follow along. Look for our show with him in the coming weeks, and follow us next time at @BeingTweets.

  1. "My understanding of the word ‘space’ is so different than my understanding of space at age 4 or age 8." -Professor James Gates 1:10 PM, 25 Jan 

  2. “I ended up at MIT which itself was a dream…a school where you studied the good stuff.” -Professor James Gates 1:14 PM, 25 Jan 

  3. "It’s about balance…we humans, it seems like we’re coded to look for symmetry." - Professor James Gates 1:19 PM, 25 Jan 

  4. "It shows up in our art and music, but if the world were perfectly symmetrical we could not exist." -Professor James Gates 1:25 PM, 25 Jan 

  5. "The Higgs particle we believe is responsible for the creation of mass for everything else in the universe." -James Gates 1:26 PM, 25 Jan 

  6. "With string theory we have a view of the universe where we become essential to the universe." -Professor James Gates 1:30 PM, 25 Jan 

  7. "We become part and parcel of what our universe is in a way I’ve never seen done in science before." -Professor James Gates 1:31 PM, 25 Jan 

  8. “In many cultures the act of naming is regarded as a very powerful thing.” –Professor James Gates 1:33 PM, 25 Jan 

  9. “If science conjures, it’s when we get a clear picture of something we didn’t know and give it a name.” -Professor James Gates 1:35 PM, 25 Jan 

  10. "Math is an extrasensory organ for those who learn to use it that way." -Professor James Gates 1:36 PM, 25 Jan 

  11.  “I’m a hidden-dimensional refusenik.” -Professor James Gates 1:38 PM, 25 Jan 

  12. "It’s almost like the equations are trying to tell you a story." -Professor James Gates 1:40 PM, 25 Jan

  13. "When you do the calculations, it seems there’s an imperative to follow the path." -Professor James Gates 1:41 PM, 25 Jan

  14. "We’re not trying to find solutions, we’re looking at the structures of the equations…like DNA." -Professor James Gates 1:47 PM, 25 Jan

  15. “Adinkras have existed in West African cultures for a very long time. They are symbols that have hidden meaning.” -James Gates 1:54 PM, 25 Jan

  16. An Adinkra: “He who does not know can become knowing by education.”
    -Professor James Gates 1:56 PM, 25 Jan

  17. “A large fraction of the fundamental science done at this point has been inward-looking.” -Professor James Gates 2:01 PM, 25 Jan

  18. "Science in my experience does not permit us the illusion of certainty." -Professor S. James Gates 2:10 PM, 25 Jan

  19. "We are forced by the structure of science to recognize human fallibility, human limits." -Professor S. James Gates 2:12 PM, 25 Jan

  20. "By embracing our limits, by embracing our fallibility we become more knowledgeable." -Professor and physicist S. James Gates 2:14 PM, 25 Jan

Photo of S. James Gates by John Consoli/University of Maryland