The inflationary theory of cosmology, an enduring theory about our universe and how it was formed, explains that just after the Big Bang, the universe went through a period of rapid expansion. This theory has been critical to understanding what’s going on in the cosmos today. But now, this long-held notion—which seems to suggest as-yet-unproven and perhaps unprovable features such as the multiverse—is under increasing attack. Through informed debate among architects of the inflationary theory and its prime competitors, this program will explore our best attempts to understand where we came from.
This program is part of the Big Ideas Series.
John Hockenberry is an award-winning journalist with twenty-five years experience in radio, broadcast television and print. He is the host of WNYC and PRI’s The Takeaway, a correspondent for PBS Frontline, and a noted presenter and moderator at conferences such as TED, Aspen Ideas, and the World Science Festival.
Andreas Albrecht is a leading theoretical cosmologist. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983 where, with Paul Steinhardt, he wrote one of the original papers on “new” or “slow roll” inflation. Slow roll inflation has since become the dominant theory of the early universe and has passed numerous observational tests with flying colors. Deep puzzles remain regarding the theoretical underpinnings of cosmic inflation and Albrecht is a leading figure in this research area. The discovery of cosmic acceleration (often referred to as “the dark energy”) has been transformative to the field of cosmology and Albrecht is known for his groundbreaking work on dark energy theory and phenomenology. Albrecht moved from a professorship at Imperial College to UC Davis in 1998 to build the cosmology program there. He is now physics department chair at UC Davis. He is a fellow of both the American Physical Society and the Institute of Physics.
Alan Guth is a professor of physics at MIT, and world-renowned for his discovery of inflationary cosmology, the dominant cosmological paradigm for over two decades. His current research focuses on developing mathematical tools for quantitatively analyzing inflation’s suggestion that there are an infinite number of universes.
Andrei Linde is a professor of physics at Stanford University, one of the authors of the inflationary theory and the theory of inflationary multiverse. He invented the theory of chaotic inflation, which is the most general form of inflationary cosmology. Linde also helped to develop the mechanism of vacuum stabilization in string theory, which helped to incorporate the theory of inflationary multiverse in the context of string theory. He is the author of the books Inflation and Quantum Cosmology and Particle Physics and Inflationary Cosmology. His honors include the Dirac Medal, Peter Gruber Prize, and the Fundamental Physics Prize.
Neil Turok develops and tests fundamental theories of the cosmos. He pioneered the open inflation and cyclic universe models, as well as observational tests for dark energy and the nature of the relic perturbations using the microwave sky, both subsequently confirmed. Currently, he is developing a mathematically complete description of the Big Bang singularity and how a universe can pass through it, as well as a new, non-inflationary model of the Big Bang.
After his Ph.D. at Imperial, Turok was associate scientist at Fermilab, professor of physics at Princeton and chair of mathematical physics in Cambridge. He is now director and Niels Bohr Chair at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, Canada. His awards include the James Clerk Maxwell medal and the 2008 TED prize for his work in cosmology, and for founding the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences. More recently, Turok gave the 2012 CBC Massey Lectures, published as The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos.