New Views of the Universe

By Mark Trodden | December 19, 2005 12:10 am

A week ago I was at the New Views of the Universe symposium in Chicago. I promised to give a more complete report, and so here goes.

This meeting was held to inaugurate the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago. The institute itself has really been around for four years now, as one of the first Physics Frontier Centers funded by the National Science Foundation. In fact, I went to another symposium back in 2001 to inaugurate that. The latest incarnation is due to new funding from the Kavli Foundation (specifically, from Fred Kavli), which will help make this a permanent institute.

I arrived on Saturday morning, checked in to the Hyatt Regency, where the whole conference was held, and headed down to the plenary sessions, which had already started. I was surprised to walk into the conference room at the beginning of Sean‘s talk on “Dark Energy, or Worse?“. As it turned out, Lisa Randall, who was supposed to speak on the first day, had been delayed and so Sean’s talk had been moved up by one day. Sean did a great job, as usual, laying out the primary approaches to the enigma of cosmic acceleration and discussing their implications. He spent quite a bit of time on modifications to gravity, on which we have worked quite a bit, and reported, among other things, on some recent work that he’s been doing in part with me, with his graduate student Iggy Sawicki, and my graduate student, Alessandra Silvestri. I won’t go into this here, but promise a full report when the paper is completed, in about a month (hopefully).

There were some other very nice plenary talks that day, but to be honest, I either couldn’t concentrate enough to appreciate them, or skipped them to get a little sleep. I had been coming down with a cold for a few days and just hadn’t had enough sleep because of this, coupled with a very early flight.

I managed to catch up on sufficient sleep that afternoon that I was livelier in the evening, when I went to a wonderful dinner with Sean, Amber Miller and Sean’s friend Gretchen Helfrich (the link is from before her excellent show was cancelled), and then on to Andy’s Jazz Club to listen to Von Freeman play.

This turned out to be a great night. We were joined at Andy’s by our very own Risa, Lisa Randall, Alice Shapley, Julianne Dalcanton and Chris Cardall. It seemed worth trying out the camera on my phone to capture such a fun evening, but the results were less than encouraging, except for this rather atmospheric shot of Lisa, with Amber Miller blurred-out on the left, and Von Freeman on stage in the background.

The man himself was in great form, even scatting with a friend of his for about twenty minutes at one point. He came over and held court at our table for a while – telling some stories and generally being charming and hilarious.

The parallel talks the next morning were fun. I particularly enjoyed Janet Conrad‘s talk, as I usually do, in which she discussed the current status and future prospects of neutrino experiments. In the afternoon I split my time between the parallel session on Dark Matter and the one on the CMB.

In the CMB session, Dragan Huterer gave a nice summary of work with Dominik Schwarz, Glenn Starkman and Craig Copi on some puzzling features of the CMB power spectrum at large angles. The fact that there is a lack of power on large scales (although entirely consistent with cosmic variance) is well known. What is perhaps not so widely discussed is that two of the lowest multipoles – the quadrupole and octopole – are tightly correlated in the sense that the quadrupole plane and the three octopole planes are aligned. That the alignments correlate with either the ecliptic or the cosmological dipole may ultimately turn out to be particularly telling. Dragan discussed how they extract this from the WMAP data and commented on possible explanations. I have questions about whether one can take seriously results obtained from the full-sky WMAP maps, since one should worry about contamination from the galactic plane. However, these are smart guys and they claim to have worried about this.

In the Dark Matter session, Anne Green (who I discovered is the puppet master behind Ed Copeland‘s recent post suggestions) gave a very nice talk on how the detailed microphysics of dark matter can affect the way in which the first dark matter halos form and, in turn, influence the distribution of dark matter on subgalactic scales.

Sunday night we had the conference banquet, held at the Adler Planetarium. It was a perfectly nice time and, for the first time, I got to hear Fred Kavli speak. For me though, the highlight was a short speech by Don Randel, the outgoing President of the University of Chicago, who gave an eloquent, spirited and heartfelt rallying call for people to help defend against the attacks on science that have occurred over the last few years and about which we have posted often.

The first talk on Monday was by Julianne Dalcanton. I was very glad that I got up to see this talk. Julianne described her talk as “Galaxy Formation 101”. This might have been true, but it was a great level for me and I actually learned a great deal. Plus, she had some hilarious slides in which puppets were doing twisted things. I’d love to have a picture of them here, but I couldn’t find them. Maybe Julianne will read this and provide an example.

I took some time on Monday to have lunch with Sean and Iggy to make some progress on our joint project, and then later had a nice dinner and some drinks with Sean, Dan Holz (who I’ve mentioned before), Isobel Hook (who I met for the first time at this conference), Ruth Gregory and Ed Copeland. I don’t get to see Ruth and Ed very often, so it was particularly nice to spend some time with them.

I learned a lot during the New Views conference. It provided a useful summary of the current status of most of the major subfields within cosmology, and the talks were excellent. Some people have reputations for giving great talks, and those people lived up to their reputations. More importantly, some people have reputations for giving not particularly great talks, but at this conference I thought even those people gave very good talks (obviously I won’t be naming names here).

One thing I like to point out when I report on conferences is how collegial they are. I think many people think of scientists as a dry bunch, who occasionally get together, stiffly shake hands and rub tweed jackets for a while in front of the blackboard. It is important for people to realize that one makes good friends from all over the world in this business. Conferences are great opportunities to learn new results, develop new collaborations and exchange ideas. But they are also wonderful fun and a chance to spend time with friends. This is one of the great perks of being a physicist.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Academia, Science, Travel
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  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Damn you Mark Trodden! I had just written almost exactly the same post, only shorter and not as good. So I’ll just mention that Dierdre Shoemaker was also at Andy’s with us, and the table next to us was also stocked with cosmologists (Savvas Koushiappas, Andrey Kravtsov…). Ed Copeland would have been there if my American phone had managed to talk to his British phone. Must have been over a dozen scientists in the joint that night, and most of them made it to Lisa’s talk at 9:00 the next morning. (True, it was Sunday, so some of them may have gone to church.)

    And don’t forget Von’s advice for getting ahead in our society: “be white.” Not the most practical advice for everyone, but okay.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Thanks Sean! I knew I was forgotting someone fun at our table. If Deidre is reading by any chance – sorry! It was very nice to meet you that night.

  • Shantanu

    Are the slides of the talks going to be put on the website?

  • http://feynman137.tripod.com/ Science

    Mark, cosmic acceleration implying dark energy is based entirely on the lack of gravitational deceleration of the big bang observed in supernovae redshift. I’ll try not to test your patience, but it was predicted (based on causal GR gravity mechanism) there would be no gravitational deceleration in the big bang via October 1996 issue of Electronics World, two years before this prediction was confirmed experimentally.

    Once the prediction was confirmed experimentally, more appropriate journals like CQG, PRL, etc., still wouldn’t wouldn’t publish, because the mainstream had immediately put an epicycle (dark energy) into the existing (false) application of GR. Lunsford predicts there’s no cosmological constant and that gravity doesn’t have a natural coupling constant. I think Lunsford right because this agrees with the mechanism that predicts the strength of gravity and various other things.

    What Lunsford is doing is revisiting an old question. The problem is that despite Pauli having discredited Kaluza-Klein, string theorists can still censor new work because Kaluza-Klein is quite well favoured, despite being false. Kaluza-Klein 5-d unification of Maxwell and GR – so worshipped by stringy theorists – is spurious because Pauli showed that any covariant theory is castable in Kaluza’s form, so the unification is vacuous. Sorry if this is an unwelcome comment 😉

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Shantanu– eventually they will be, although I don’t think they’re up yet.

    Science– we understand that you have a theory. Honestly you don’t need to keep telling us.

  • Pingback: The universe is the poor man’s particle accelerator | Cosmic Variance()

  • Julianne

    Hi Mark! I believe that by “slides in which puppets were doing twisted things”, you may be referring to the “Avenging Unicorn”, one of the many fine products for sale at the local Seattle institution Archie McPhee. Archie McPhee carries a full line of bacon- and meat-related items (sorry Risa!), unusual action figures (looking for a posable male nurse? look no more!), and other Very Strange Things . A tremendous resource for Halloween, and of course, plenary review talks.

    Great time at Andy’s by the way! It was a pleasure meeting everyone.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Thanks Julianne – great stuff! It somehow fits my sense of humor perfectly. Nice meeting you in Chicago – hope we can repeat again before too long.

  • http://vulpes82.blogspot.com Frank

    “Rubbing tweed”? Is that what the kids are calling it these days? *LOL*

  • http://feynman137.tripod.com/ Science

    Sean – I don’t have a ‘theory’ (see my page, it isn’t ‘my’ theory but a compilation of many people’s work). Second it is entirely fact. It is possible to make predictions without speculation. Don’t lump real scientists with stringers by refering to ‘theory’ if you use the same term for untestable guesses. Thanks 😉

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Mark Trodden

Mark Trodden holds the Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Endowed Chair in Physics and is co-director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a theoretical physicist working on particle physics and gravity— in particular on the roles they play in the evolution and structure of the universe. When asked for a short phrase to describe his research area, he says he is a particle cosmologist.

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