A physics professor’s recent trip to the city of Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates to deliver several talks exemplifies Colorado School of Mines’ ongoing efforts to embody technical excellence while embracing a broader worldview.
Professor Lincoln Carr was invited to United Arab Emirates University by Usama Al Khawaja, a professor of physics and collaborator who has visited Mines several times. While the original plan was for Carr to speak about quantum mechanics, he ended up delivering three talks there that varied greatly in scope.
In addition to discussing a new direction for analog quantum computations—quantum complexity—Carr also delivered a college-level talk on recent massive investments into quantum research by the U.S., China and Europe, and a university-wide lecture about bridging the divide between the sciences and the humanities.
This last lecture, covering centuries of history, “is an extremely radical talk,” Carr said. He noted that while many Americans are unfamiliar with fundamental science concepts, leading to a rejection of many scientific discoveries, that’s only part of the problem: on the other hand, many Americans in STEM fields have little appreciation for the humanities.
This belief that the scientific perspective is true and the rest is a matter of opinion, Carr said, “stands in strong contrast to the attitude of Western Enlightenment thinkers as well as their predecessors in Arab and Islamic civilizations, who approached the world around them with an attitude of curiosity and openness synthesizing many paradigms of thought.”
Carr cited the study of lucid dreaming, once dismissed as New Age pseudoscience but now the subject of serious research, as a point where science and the humanities have come together. He was pleasantly surprised by the reception to this lecture, having expected a more conservative audience—even avoiding using images of women. Instead, he ended up delivering his talk on the women’s half of the campus. “They loved it. The audience was really open-minded,” said Carr, who noted that 80 percent of the population of the UAE comes from other countries, leading to really diverse perspectives.
Professors at UAE University—one of the top two public research universities in the Middle East—come from all over Africa, southeast Europe, anywhere Islam has touched people, Carr said. Al Ain, a city of about 650,000, is “an intellectual city—a giant college town,” he said. During this trip, Carr also presented his talk on quantum complexity at Texas A&M University at Qatar.
Carr credits his fellow faculty in the McBride Honors Program, which he has taught in for several years, with teaching him to think beyond physics. “Everything that I spoke about there came straight out of honors courses I’ve taught here,” he said. Carr praised President Paul Johnson for his support of the program. “I think it will create the kind of future scientists and engineers who will solve key world problems,” he said. “You can’t solve the clean water problem by working only in your discipline and not understanding the global picture.”
Carr said Mines, along with the “Renaissance engineers” it will produce, will have a major role in these future solutions. “Mines is a place where we can do something really different,” he said. “I really believe in that mission.”