Cosmic Inflation and the Origin of Structure in Universe

MIT Professor David Kaiser on galactic superclusters, long-term effects of gravity, and Higgs field

videos | December 15, 2014

Where does all the structure we see originate from? What clues does the Cosmic Microwave Background provide us with? Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology David Kaiser explains how different theories can be combined to understand the structure in the universe.

When we look out at the universe around us, when astronomers use their telescopes and make observations there’s a striking pattern, there’s structure in the universe. We see structure on all different scales. We see huge, dense glomings together of matter, and activity, and energy in super-clusters of galaxies, separated by huge voids.

And it turns out our best explanation today combines two of the most brilliant and beautiful ideas at the heart of modern physics. One, a notion from Einstein’s relativity, that space time is wobbly, it’s like a trampoline, that the space and time in which we are embedded is not static or fixed. It can respond to the presence of matter in it, that’s one idea. And the other, coming from quantum theory and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, is that matter is inherently jittery. It cant help but fluctuate around. We started combining those two ideas, and all of a sudden we can begin to account for the origin of the structure in the universe.

So now we know that there is such a thing as the Higgs field. People have found it, they’ve actually detected the Higgs particles. It turns out that it’s more and more likely, that as we go to earlier times, especially the earliest moments after the big bang, that matter like the Higgs field should have dominated the overall composition of the universe. That should have been most important in terms of the way the energy of the universe was distributed. Either the exact Higgs field that they’ve just found, or fields very much like it. Simplest kind of mathematical structure, not like the kind of particles that make up, us. Not like electrons or quarks or protons. Even simpler, much like that Higgs field they’ve just found.

Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science; Department Head, Program in Science, Technology, and Society, Senior Lecturer, Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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