Rodolfo Gambini, the Uruguayan physicist who united science and philosophy and is internationally known


Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Enrico Fermi, Pierre and Marie Curie. Only six names of the most eminent physicists of the twentieth century. His texts, his life and his work were within the reach of the paternal library. Rodolfo GambiniBorn May 1, 1946, he spent his childhood leafing through these books. “I have been motivated my whole life. Maybe because my father was also interested in physics and I was really passionate about the subjects of quantum mechanics and general relativity in particular. I always wanted it, ”he told El País one day after his appointment as a member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, An institution with 241 years of history.

He was the second to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in physics from the Faculty of Humanities and Ancient Sciences of the University of the Republic. With the advent of the dictatorship, he continued his studies in Paris, where he finished his doctorate in theoretical physics. His thesis was on Propagation of gravitational waves In flexible media.

The academic world has 241 years of history.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences honors excellence and brings together leaders from all fields of human endeavor to study new ideas, address issues of importance to the nation and the world, and work together to develop all the arts and sciences that promote the interest, honor, dignity and happiness of a free, independent and virtuous people. , The Second President of the United States, John Hancock, the eminent patriot of the American Revolution, and 60 other scholars at this institution believe that the new republic will require institutions capable of pooling knowledge and promoting learning for service. of the public good.

Over 13,500 members have been elected since 1780. “This was the first Academy of Sciences; the other (the National Academy of Sciences) was established by (Abraham) Lincoln in 1863. It has many years of history and is broader in scope as it includes politicians and philosophers. Sociologists and specialists in the human sciences as well as scientists. “Its most recent member, Uruguayan physicist Rodolfo Gambini, commented.

“When I was studying, many of my teachers were skeptical about the existence of gravitational waves because at that time there was great confusion about how to understand Einstein’s general relativity Which predicted the necessity of these waves, but it was not clear why there is a problem in general relativity, where it seems that a lot of things exist, but rather it is the result of a certain way of seeing the problem. But if you looked wider, that wouldn’t exist, ”he explained. Einstein was convinced that it would not be possible to measure gravitational waves. Einstein was wrong.

Gambini was not skeptical (nor is he now) but admits he was a bit ‘pessimistic’. Which means that at that time – the 1970s and 1980s – he thought he would have to wait “400 years” to gain precise knowledge about certain problems in the universe. But it was not necessary. Gravitational waves, for example, were first detected in 2015. “Building gravity detectors has been an extraordinary technical achievement that opened the door to the universe,” he said.

Today, after retiring from teaching, having written over 100 papers in the field of particle physics, having led Field Theory and General Relativity Group of the Institute of Physics From the College of Science and internationally featured in Crafts The “Montevideo interpretation” of quantum mechanicsAfter becoming the first president of the National Academy of Sciences and after retiring to Punta del Este, he became more optimistic.

Quantum Mechanics: The Theory of Montevideo.

Gambini’s work focused on field theory, an offshoot of
Physics describing the behavior of gravitational and electromagnetic fields, among others. He formulated the so-called “Montevideo interpretation” of quantum mechanics. “There have been many explanations since the inception of quantum mechanics in the 1920s and they have all run into problems. We have proposed an explanation based only on quantum mechanics without any other assumptions. This is very good because it is believed that the universe is essentially quantum because everyday beings are made up of microscopic beings of one nature. Quantum. So this interpretation solves some problems and is in fact the basis of our most philosophical work, the hospital world. “

And this has many reasons.

One of them is the advancement of science and technology. “What we don’t know is always seen so far away that it suddenly appears,” he told El País. He gave as an example the Standard Model of particle physics, which was developed in the 1970s, when he “believed” that “we have a very good understanding of the elementary particles that make up the universe”. It was believed that this theory would last “a long time” and yet problems arose.

After decades of research and teaching, Gambini summed it up this way: “The constant is change and surprise.

Rodolfo Gambini. Photo: Ricardo Figueiredo

Another reason for optimism is Uruguay’s scientific talent, despite a historic shortage of funding. When Gambini returned to Uruguay in 1987, there were only a “handful of academics”. There is now a united work team that excels abroad. “We are still a small country but in terms of quality we are very competitive in many areas. It is the product of the effort of the scientific community which has integrated and is working in a coordinated manner. There is already a great sense of common goals related to national development and science, ”he said. Knowledge is what can change a country. “

The hospital universe and philosophical problems.

Rodolfo Gambini has always been interested in physics with a philosophical vision: to unravel the mysteries of the universe, nature and man. In other words, “How do we understand ourselves starting from this material structure which seems to be anchored in our constitution”. It combined two parts that many believe to be incompatible: the hard sciences and the humanities. In his book A hospitable world It explains how the laws of physics work and allow the development of structures to make life possible as well as human consciousness. He said: “It seems something totally incompatible when you think of the physics taught in high school, which has been totally ignored by the current physics most favorable to the evolution of life.”

But what is missing? Gambini did not hesitate to respond: “The conviction that Uruguay can be a country with development based on knowledge and science. There is therefore a lack of political will. From the start of his career until “very recently” he stressed that the country was only considered an agricultural country, which is why “he did not have to deal” with science. “They said that basic science is an unnecessary luxury and that reality has completely overtaken it today,” he said.

He added: “The role of basic sciences in recent years is clear and is the basis of the possibilities to transform the country with another type of production, with another capacity to innovate and adapt to new challenges. There is room for optimism, but there is no political decision to systematically promote this development.

Gambini is also optimistic that there will be no shortage of young people who show the same enthusiasm he felt when he read his father’s books. He advised them all: “You can never run out of curiosity and desire for knowledge. But it also demands their independence because “everyone has a different vision.” He said to them: The ability to contribute to each of us.