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Salon with Prof. Dr. Dr. Helmut Schwarz and Prof. Dr. Robbert Dijkgraaf

Salon with Prof. Dr. Dr. Helmut Schwarz and Prof. Dr. Robbert Dijkgraaf, © German Consulate General NY

03.05.2019 - Article

Why do we care about a photo of a black hole 55 million light-years from Earth away? A Salon on Science and Philosophy at the Residence.

In his famous essay “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge” Abraham Flexner gave numerous examples of outstanding scientists such as Newton, Einstein, Hertz and Maxwell who made their groundbreaking discoveries only because they were able to give free rein to their scientific curiosity. In our time, when research and theoretical knowledge are often subjected to the strict yardsticks of “utility considerations” Consul General David Gill hosted a salon with Professors Helmut Schwarz, member of the American National Academy of Science and until 2017 president of the German Alexander-von-Humboldt-Stiftung, and Robbert Dijgraaf, Head of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. While reflecting on the salon, Consul General Gill stressed the importance of basic research for innovation and progress, “In our confusing and shifting world, basic research has a serious raison d'être not only so that we can understand our world but also to assist research and development in topics of – for example – medicine or technology.”

As to our initial question: Nearly a century ago, physicists deduced that black holes should exist from Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. By stringing together a global network of radio telescopes, astronomers recently produced a picture of a supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy for the first time. According to experts this tremendous accomplishment provides us with the glimpse into the end of space and time.

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