By Alexandra Edwards
Robert Jantzen, PhD, is the recipient of Villanova’s 2011 Outstanding Faculty Research Award. Dr. Jantzen will speak as part of the Scholarship@Villanova lecture series on Thursday, Apr. 19, at 1:00 p.m. in Speakers’ Corner. His lecture, titled “General Relativity, Cosmology and Pasta? A Life of USA-Italy Academic Commuting,” will touch on his more than three decades of research, which garnered him this prestigious award.
We asked Dr. Jantzen, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, to give us some details about his transatlantic research, his upcoming talk, and why he’s brought his love of food into his academic research.
How did you end up researching and working in Italy?
I was an undergraduate at Princeton University during its “golden age of general relativity” and met an Italian physicist Remo Ruffini collaborating with John Wheeler (Feynman’s advisor) on black holes to do some independent work translating a long paper by Luigi Bianchi from 1898 on homogeneous spaces for use in mathematical cosmology. Some years later I then did a postdoc with Ruffini in Rome (1979-1980) and never stopped returning.
How would you explain relativity to a freshman?
Special relativity is relatively simple: the laws of physics show have the same form for any pair of observers which are each moving at constant velocity (inertial observers, as in inertial guidance systems for jets). For example, if a laser gun on a jet fighter is shot in the forward direction, the speed at which its beam arrives at the target should be the same as measured on the ground or as measured by the jet fighter instruments. General relativity is more complicated in that there are no preferred inertial observers moving at constant velocity due to the curvature of spacetime. I don’t have a short answer for this. The presence of matter and energy curves spacetime, and spacetime in turn tells matter how to move, in the rephrased words of John Wheeler. But in any region small enough compared to spacetime curvature, the laws of special relativity should apply.
Can you say a bit more about the pasta metaphor? How did you come up with it?