Andrew Pontzen – “The Echo of Creation”

Andrew Pontzen is a research fellow at the Kavli Institute for Cosmology, in the University of Cambridge.

His talk was an entertaining and informative survey of our current knowledge of the universe based on the theory and observations of scientists from Einstein onwards through the twentieth century. The central theme was the background radiation generated by the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe, which can be simply demonstrated as noise on an analogue TV set. Actually measuring the radiation and showing that that it is not uniform requires more than an old television; the first detection of the microwave background was made by Penzias and Wilson using a radio antenna, and later on a spacecraft showed that it was distributed in all directions. Only when the WMAP spacecraft was launched, was it possible to detect minute (parts in a thousand) differences over a background value near to absolute zero degrees Kelvin. These anisotropies showed that the early universe was not uniform and helps to explain how galaxies form out of primordial material.

A parallel theme of the talk concerned the fact that many of the pioneering scientists in this field were aging males with receding hairlines and glasses. This observation may turn out to provoke as much controversy as the theories that were being debated, such as the steady state universe versus the Big Bang.

As well as undertaking research in cosmology, Andrew is also involved in outreach activities and will be delivering the talk he gave to us in Papworth to the Cambridge Science Festival on 19th March at 4.30pm in the Babbage Lecture Theatre Cambridge. Those who missed it this time round will therefore have an opportunity to hear a talk with a bit more direct human interest than is often the case with scientific talks.

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