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K-State Today

April 9, 2013

Star struck: Physics lecturer to talk about modification of the big bang theory

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

A new theory on how the universe formed is the topic of the next lecture in Kansas State University's Chester Peterson Jr. Public Lecture in Physics series.

Alan Guth, Victor F. Weisskopf professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, will present "Inflationary Cosmology: Is Our Universe Part of a Multiverse?" at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, in Town Hall at the Leadership Studies Building. Refreshments will be served at 4 p.m. in 123 Leadership Studies Building.

Guth's new cosmic theory, the inflationary universe, is a modification of the big bang theory proposing that the expansion of the very young universe was propelled by a repulsive gravitational force generated by an exotic form of matter, similar to Albert Einstein's cosmological constant.

"If further confirmed by more precise future measurements, the inflation model of the very early universe will be viewed as one of the most important scientific developments during the last half century," said Bharat Ratra, professor of physics and lecture coordinator. "This lecture should be of interest to anyone who has ever looked out at the night sky and wondered about the stars. K-State is fortunate to have the opportunity to hear Alan Guth, a founder of inflation, describe it to us."

Guth will summarize and illustrate the story of the universe's origin proposed by the inflation theory, as well as the ongoing evolution of the universe, in nontechnical terms understandable to the general public. Also, he will describe how the observed bumps in the cosmological light and matter originated during inflation as a consequence of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics.

"An interesting feature of inflation is that almost all versions of it lead to eternal inflation: once inflation starts, it goes on forever, producing a 'multiverse' of 'pocket universes,' one of which would be our universe," Guth said. "The multiverse idea is speculative, but I will explain why I believe it should be taken seriously."

Guth and his research group study the application of theoretical particle physics to the early universe. He researches the evolutionary history of the universe, cosmology and fundamental laws of nature. He received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from MIT, all in physics. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University, Columbia University, Cornell University and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center before returning to MIT as an associate professor in 1980.

Guth has received the MIT School of Science Prize for Undergraduate Teaching, the Franklin Medal for Physics of the Franklin Institute, and the Dirac Prize of the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste.

The Peterson lecture series is named after Chester Peterson Jr., Lindsborg, who earned two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree from Kansas State University. Peterson established an endowment for the lecture series in 2006 to interest everyone in the fascinating world of modern physics. This focus corresponds with the interests of the university's department of physics.

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