Jupiter Scientific's List of
The Greatest Unsolved Problems in Science

(Please come back periodically as information will be added from time to time)

A  lot about the world has been learned during the past few centuries, but some mysteries still remain. Apparently, Nature has not revealed to us all her secrets but scientists are hard at work trying to decipher them.

On August 28, 1999, National Public Radio's Science Friday program presented some of the greatest unsolved problems in science. Here is Jupiter Scientific's list.

More detailed information will be provided in the coming months, so come back and find out more.  

In Astronomy: The Mystery of Dark Matter

*What Is Dark Matter?
Astronomers have discovered that there is an amazing halo of mysterious invisible material that engulfs galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Astronomers have no idea what it is, and it composes about 95% of the mass of the Universe.
*If It's Invisible, Then How Does One Sense Its Existence?
Astronomers have detected dark matter indirectly through its gravitational pull. For example, dark matter causes the stars in the outer regions of a galaxy to orbit faster than they would if there was only ordinary matter present.
*What Are Some of the Speculations as to Its Composition?
If neutrinos have mass, they might be a component of dark matter. Black holes and undiscovered, exotic elementary particles are other possibilities.
*Why Is Dark Matter Important?
Dark matter played a crucial role in galaxy formation during the evolution of the cosmos. It also determines the ultimate fate of the Universe.

Click here for additional information about dark matter.
To read a transcipt of a radio broadcast on dark matter, click here.

In Gravity: The Construction of a Consistent Quantum Theory of Gravity

*What Is the Difficulty?
The theory of gravity as formulated by Einstein is incompatible with the rules of quantum mechanics. Theorists encounter serious difficulties when trying to construct a quantum version of gravity.
*How Would Our Understanding of Gravity Be Affected?
A quantum gravity theory would lead to few noticeable effects in the macroscopic world. At distances much, much smaller than an atom, however, Einstein's gravity theory would be significantly changed.
*Why Is This Problem Important?
Quantum mechanics and gravity are two great pillars of science. The marriage of these two principles would create a new fundamental understanding of Nature. There could also be implications for black holes.

For a more detailed discussion, click here.

In Particle Physics: The Mechanism That Makes Fundamental Mass

*What Is the Problem?
The masses of the electron, proton and neutron are generated through what-is-called "electroweak breaking," but particle physicists do not know how this breaking mechanism works.
*Does "Electroweak Breaking" Affect the Macroscopic World?
Since all material is made of atoms and since atoms are made of electrons, protons and neutrons, the "breaking" produces the mass of everything.
*When Are Scientists Likely to Solve This Problem?
The Large Hadronic Collider, which is being built near Geneva, Switzerland, should be completed around the year 2005. By the end of the next decade, physicists probably will know the answer.

Click here for more information. See also the Jupiter Scientific report on the Possible Discovery of the "God Particle".

In Theoretical High-Energy Physics: The Unification of the Basic Forces

*What Does Unification Mean?
Two seemingly different forces are unified when a theory is found that combines them. The two forces then become manifestations of a single theoretical structure.
*What Are Some Examples of Unification?
In the nineteenth century, scientists were able to unify the electric and magnetic forces into one structure called electromagnetism. In the 1960's, the weak subnuclear force was united with electromagnetism to form the electroweak theory, which was subsequently verified in particle accelerator experiments.
*Which Forces Have Not Been Unified?
The two other fundamental forces – gravity and the strong nuclear force – remain as independent, isolated forces. However, theorists suspect, but do not know for certain, that all the fundamental forces will emerge from one theory. In The Bible According to Einstein, this theory is called the Uni-Law.
*Are Other Forces Such as Friction Unified?
All remaining forces – friction, string tension, support forces, the forces in springs, collision forces, atomic forces, molecular forces, etc. – are produced by the fundamental forces. Therefore, it is only necessary to unify the four fundamental interactions of electromagnetism, gravity, the weak subnuclear force and the strong nuclear force.
*What Is the Best Candidate for Unification?
String theory can potentially unified not only all the fundamental forces but the elementary particles as well. To read a short report about string theory, click here.
*What Is a GUT?
GUT stands for grand unified theory. GUT's unite electromagnetism, the weak subnuclear interaction and the strong nuclear force into a single theory. Gravity is not included. It is possible that a GUT theory will emerge as part of the structure of string theory.

In Cosmology: The Creation of the Universe

*How Much Do Scientists Know about the Beginning of the Universe?
Cosmologists have determined the general history of the Universe starting from one-trillionth of a second after creation. This great history story is told in the "Old Testament" of The Bible According to Einstein. To read a comment by Stephen Hawking on the creation of the universe, click here.
*What is the Ultimate Quest in Cosmology?
The big question is "How was our Universe born?" and "What happened when the Universe first emerged just after the very instant of creation?"
*Is Anything Known about the Universe before One-Trillionth of a Second?
At very early times, it is suspected that the fabric of space underwent a tremendous stretching that caused the radiation and material in the Universe to disperse. This idea is called inflation. For more information, see the book review on The Inflationary Universe
*What Needs to Be Known to Understand Creation?
At times less than 10-43 seconds – a period known as the Planck Epoch – the Universe was so tiny that gravitational quantum effects were important. To understand the Universe during the Planck Epoch, one needs a quantum theory of gravity. See above.

In Biology: How the Basic Processes of Life Are Carried Out by DNA and Proteins

*What is DNA?
DNA encodes biological molecules (such as proteins) that either control fundamental biological processes or make up basic structures of life.
*What Is the Challenge?
Sometime in the early 21st century, the DNA sequences of many life forms including humans will be determined. See the Jupiter Scientific report on the genome project. The great problem is to determine what all the proteins do and how one can reproduce life from this knowledge.
*How Important Is It to Understand DNA?
To understand DNA is to understand life at a fundamental level.
*How Will This Knowledge Affect Our Lives?
If biologists learn to manipulate the DNA sequences at will, then they will be able to change and create life. The technological benefits will be staggering. The potential abuses could be horrific.

In Neuroscience: Free Will

*How Is It That Humans Have the Freedom to Decide and Act?
Our brain and sensory organs allow us to respond to our surroundings in a way that is not deterministic. We, humans, have developed a remarkable ability to make decisions, to plan our actions, and to decide, in part, our fates. But how does this come about?
*What Plays a Role in Free Will?
Quantum mechanics must be involved to some extent. If the world were not quantum mechanical, then the future would be determined. The brain – as a complex, dynamical system – is important. Learning and delayed response are two other essential ingredients. The book of "The Evolution of Intelligence" of The Bible According to Einstein presents some of these ideas.

Other Important Scientific Problems:

In Astrophysics: The Source of Gamma Ray Bursts

In Theoretical Cosmology and Particle Physics: The Cosmological Constant Problem (A caller on the August 28 Science Friday broadcast asked a question about this important issue)

Update: Recent observations indicate that the Universe is accelerating and therefore a non-zero cosmological is likely. This increases the importance of the cosmological constant problem. However, theorists have invented a new solution call quintessence.

In Particle Physics and Astrophysics: The Solar Neutrino Problem

Update: This problem is most likely solved. There is strong evidence that neutrinos have mass and that electron neutrinos emitted in the core of the Sun transform into other neutrinos via oscillations on their way to the Earth.

In Solid State Physics: The Mechanism Behind High-Temperature Superconductors

In Biology: Protein Folding

In Neuroscience: Consciousness (Floyd Bluhm, the editor of Science magazine, raised this important issue in the August 28 Science Friday broadcast)

In Paleontology: How Present-Day Microbiological Information Can Be Used to Reconstruct "The Ancient Tree of Life"

In Geology: The Dynamics of the Inner Earth

In Geology: Earthquake Predicting

In Chemistry: How Microscopic Atomic Forces Produce Various Macroscopic Behaviors

In Chemistry: The Fabrication and Manipulation of Carbon-Based Structures (Fullerenes)

If you have a suggestion for this list of great unsolved problems in science, please e-mail it to admin@jupiterscientific.org.

This report was prepared by the staff of Jupiter Scientific, an organization devoted to the promotion of science through books, the internet and other means of communication.

This web page may NOT be copied onto other web sites, but other sites may link to this page.

Copyright ©1998, 1999, 2000 by Jupiter Scientific

To Jupiter Scientific's Information Page