Carlo Rovelli, rockstar of quantum mechanics

By Stéphanie Chayet

Posted yesterday at 04:05, updated yesterday at 05:32

Carlo Rovelli in his apartment in Verona, Italy, in July.

One day Carlo Rovelli received a message that began with these words: “Hello Carlo, I am an 80-year-old painter…” The 80-year-old painter was called David Hockney, he had liked a text by the physicist published by the New York Times and invited him to spend a day in his studio to chat. Some time later, on the heights of Los Angeles, the English artist showed the Italian scientist the large canvas full of distortions on which he was working.

How does reality present itself to us? How to give new forms to space? Questions were flowing from both sides. “I think that art and science have in common to help us see the world better”, meditates Rovelli, three years after this meeting “Wonderful”. “Wonderful” is one of the words he uses most often.

Also read this interview from 2015: Carlo Rovelli: “We never see the time, but we see things change”

Not ten minutes have passed since his arrival on the terrace where we have an appointment that a stranger approaches. Hands clasped, apologizing for disturbing, the young man quickly declares that he has molto, molto loved his books before slipping away. So that’s it, the life of a “Physics rockstar”, to borrow a formula from Times who obviously has nothing hyperbolic?

We knew he was already inundated with requests, proposals and invitations to which he could not respond even if he passed by. ” all [son] time to do just that “, as he regrets in an auto-reply email in three languages, wearing a sad smiley face. We can now see that he is recognized in the street, which must not have happened to a physicist since Stephen Hawking. The street in question is in Verona, the Italian city of his childhood, where he keeps a small apartment a stone’s throw from the old Roman bridge and travels by bike, hair in the wind.

Heir to sages and scholars

He could have remained one of the founders of quantum loop gravity, a young and promising “theory of everything” which competes, against string theory, in the race for the unification of the general relativity of Einstein and of quantum mechanics. He could have been satisfied with publishing research articles read by about thirty of his peers, giving lectures with philosophers, and interested his students in the birth of scientific thought. But, as he approached sixty, Carlo Rovelli took it upon himself to write “For those who know nothing or very little about physics” a series of Sunday chronicles which the great Italian publisher Roberto Calasso, recently deceased, suggested to him in 2014 to print a small book.

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