MODERATOR: Brian Greene
PARTICIPANTS: Andrei Linde, Alan Guth, Amber Miller, John Kovac, Paul Steinhardt
PROGRAM DATE: Friday, May 30, 2014

In March, a major breakthrough in understanding the origin of universe took the scientific community–and the general public–by storm. A team lead by astronomer John Kovac, using a powerful telescope at the South Pole, reported evidence of ripples in the fabric of space time produced by the big bang, a long-sought prediction of our most refined approach to cosmology, the inflationary theory. Amidst the worldwide celebration, though, some have been quietly suggesting that the champagne has been uncorked prematurely. Join a singular conversation, among the world’s most respected pioneers in cosmological theory and observation, that will explore the state of the art in the ongoing quest to understand the beginning of the universe. This program is part of the Big Ideas series.

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Brian Greene
Brian Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, and is recognized for a number of groundbreaking discoveries in his field of superstring theory. His books, The Elegant UniverseThe Fabric of the Cosmos, and The Hidden Reality, have collectively spent 65 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and were the basis of two award-winning NOVA mini-series, which he hosted. Professor Greene co-founded the World Science Festival in 2008 and serves as Chairman of the Board.



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.


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.

Professor, Physicist

Amber Miller is the Dean of Science for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Physics at Columbia University. She leads the Columbia University Experimental Cosmology group dedicated to studying relic signatures from the Big Bang with the goal of understanding the origin and evolution of the universe. Her team studies the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) and the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich Effect (SZE) using sensitive centimeter and millimeter-wave instruments. Professor Miller has also worked and taught on the interface between science and policy. She developed and taught courses entitled, Science, Politics, and Critical Thinking and Weapons of Mass Destruction, and has recently been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and consulted for the NYPD. Amber Miller received her BA from U.C. Berkeley in 2005, her PhD from Princeton in 2000, and joined the Columbia faculty in 2002.

Astronomer, Physicist

John Kovac is an associate professor in the Astronomy and Physics Departments at Harvard University. His cosmology research focuses on observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) to reveal signatures of the physics that drove the birth of the universe, the creation of its structure, and its present-day expansion.

Kovac’s research over the past two decades has involved the design, deployment, and operation of multiple generations of radio telescopes at the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole. During his graduate studies at the University of Chicago, he led the Degree Angular Scale Interferometer (DASI) telescope’s polarization measurements which achieved the first detection of CMB polarization in 2002, for which he was awarded the Grainger Prize Fellowship. During his subsequent years at the California Institute of Technology as a Millikan Postdoctoral and Killroy Research Fellow, he worked on the first bolometric polarimeters (QUAD and BICEP) designed specifically to target the B-mode signature of an Inflationary origin of the universe. Their South Pole-based observations provide the most powerful published constraints of this signal. The generation of telescopes now operating at Pole (BICEP2 and SPUD) achieve sufficient sensitivity to test definitively the leading models of the physics of the Big Bang. The goals of the next generation of telescopes (POLAR-1/POLAR Array) include a complete high-redshift lensing survey of southern sky, measurements of neutrino mass and dark energy.

John Kovac teaches courses at Harvard which include an advanced astrophysics lab (Ay191) in which undergraduates detect their own evidence for the Big Bang. He has authored over 30 refereed publications on his research and has co-organized meetings on astrophysics from Antarctica including NSF workshops, SCAR working groups, and an upcoming IAU 2012 special Symposium. He is an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow.


Paul J. Steinhardt is the Albert Einstein Professor in Science and Director of the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science at Princeton University, where he is also on the faculty of both the Department of Physics and the Department of Astrophysical Sciences. He received his B.S. in Physics at Caltech in 1974; his M.A. in Physics in 1975 and Ph.D. in Physics in 1978 at Harvard University. He was a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows from 1978-81 and on the faculty of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania from 1981-98, where he was Mary Amanda Wood Professor from 1989-98. He is a Fellow in the American Physical Society and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He shared the P.A.M. Dirac Medal from the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in 2002 for his role as one of the architects of the inflationary model of the universe; the Oliver E. Buckley Prize of the American Physical Society in 2010 for his contribution to the theory of quasicrystals; and the John Scott Award in 2012 for his work on quasicrystals, including the discovery of the first natural quasicrystal. In 2012, he was named Simons Fellow in Theoretical Physics; Radcliffe Institute Fellow at Harvard; and Moore Fellow at Caltech. He is the author of over 200 refereed articles, 100 reviews and popular articles, nine patents, four patents pending, three technical books, numerous popular articles, and, in 2007, co-authored Endless Universe: The Big Bang and Beyond, a popular book on contemporary theories of cosmology. He is one of the co-discoverers of icosahedrite, the first natural quasicrystal, and, in 2011, led a successful geological expedition to Chukotka in Far Eastern Russia to find new information about its origin and retrieve more samples.