SLAC Physicist Explores Parallel Universes Sunday Night on Discovery Channel

By Mike Ross
September 1, 2011

Are parallel universes real?

The answer to that intriguing question is explored in an hour-long Discovery Channel television program that features SLAC theoretical physicist JoAnne Hewett and airs nationwide at 8 p.m. Sunday.

The program is the final installment of Discovery Channel’s “Curiosity” series. It will be rebroadcast later on Science Channel as an episode of Morgan Freeman’s “Through the Wormhole” series.

Back in April, the film crew taped Hewett discussing the science of parallel universes in SLAC’s Master Control Center and in front of Building 41.

“The main portion of the interview was about BaBar, the B-Factory and taking measurements concerning the antimatter content of the universe,” Hewett said. “We also spent two or three hours filming a scene where I play checkers with myself. The red checkers represented the matter in the universe and the black checkers antimatter. At the end of the game only one red checker was left, to indicate that the universe is now only full of matter.”

Whenever Hewett switched to playing the black checkers, “the inside joke is that they called me ‘Anti-JoAnne, the evil twin,’” she said. “It turns out that my mother is a twin and her sister is my Aunt JoAnne. I couldn't say the words ‘My evil twin anti-JoAnne’ without laughing! All in all, it was a lot of fun. The TV guys were absolutely great at making me feel comfortable.”

The Discovery Channel website describes the episode this way: On the surface, the term "parallel universe" seems straightforward, conjuring science-fiction images of inter-dimensional travel and lurking doppelgangers. But parallel universes might not be mere fantasy. Modern science tells us that somewhere out there, in another fabric of time, there could be entire worlds that look very much like our own. Host Morgan Freeman investigates if there could be more than one version of reality – and more than one ‘you.' As scientists unravel this possibility, an astounding one emerges: these parallel worlds could determine the destiny of the entire universe.

The website also features a 20-question quiz on the science relating to parallel universes.

Hewett said she feels strongly that communicating effectively on national television is time well spent.

“The American taxpayers pay for our science,” she said. “Overwhelmingly, I find that the average person I meet on the street or driving a taxi or sitting next to me on an airplane is incredibly interested in our science and think it's important. But they need for us to talk to them and tell them about it.”

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Making of "Through the Wormhole" (Photo by Melinda Lee.)
SLAC physicist JoAnne Hewett in the Main Control Center during filming of her episode of "Through the Wormhole," which airs on Sunday at 8 p.m. on the Discovery Channel. (Photo by Melinda Lee.)