Lightman to address ‘The Physicist as Novelist’ April 13

Alan Lightman, Ph.D., a physicist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a popular novelist, will deliver the ArtSci Council, Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi Lecture April 13 for the Assembly Series.

His talk, “The Physicist as Novelist,” will begin at 11 a.m. in Graham Chapel.

Alan Lightman
Alan Lightman

Throughout his life, Lightman has pursued two intellectual passions, writing and science. In his first novel, Einstein’s Dreams, published in 1993, Lightman attempts to convey the mind-set of a scientific genius.

The work is set in Bern, Switzerland, in 1905. Einstein, then an unknown patent clerk, is working on the theory of relativity in his spare time. The book describes young Einstein’s dreams: visions in which time functions in bizarre ways with startling consequences.

“I feel that to most people, the scientific culture is like a foreign country,” Lightman said. “I always enjoy writers who live in a foreign culture and try to convey that to a wider audience… That’s something I would like to do with the scientific culture.”

Einstein’s Dreams became an international best-seller. It has been translated into 30 languages and was a finalist for a National Book Award in fiction.

The book also received wide critical acclaim. The Sunday London Times called it “dazzling,” and added that “Lightman is exploring fiction’s deep space.” The New York Times said that it “pulls the reader into a dream world like a powerful magnet.”

Lightman has written several other novels, including The Reunion and Good Benito, as well as science texts and numerous scholarly articles in physics.

Most recently, he published a collection of essays, A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit, which capture his musings on the nature of scientific creativity.

Lightman is known to be especially adept at exploring the relationship among science, art and literature. National publications such as The New Yorker and Smithsonian have published his essays.

Since 1989, he has taught physics and has directed the Program for Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT. He previously taught physics and astronomy at Harvard University.

He graduated from Princeton University in 1970 with a degree in physics. He then earned a doctorate in physics from California Institute of Technology in 1974 and conducted postdoctoral work at Cornell University.

He is a member of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Assembly Series lectures are free and open to the public.

For more information, go online to or call 935-4620.