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Feigl Lecture starts with Big Bang

How well does the Big Bang theory explain the state of the universe, and how well does it agree with newer theories such as the idea of cosmic inflation?

These and similar questions will be explored when David Kaiser, an associate professor of the history of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gives the Frank J. Feigl Lecture at Lehigh on Thursday, Sept. 8.

Kaiser’s address, sponsored by the department of physics, is titled “The Big Bang and Beyond: Today’s Particle Cosmology” and will begin at 4:10 p.m. in Room 270 of Lewis Lab. A reception will be held at 3:45 p.m.

The event celebrates the contributions of Albert Einstein, who is being honored during the United Nations’ “World Year of Physics 2005” on the 100th anniversary of the publication of five of his most famous articles. The articles discussed the dimensions of molecules, Brownian motion and the photoelectric effect, and propounded Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Kaiser, who is also a lecturer in MIT’s department of physics, was co-author with MIT physicist Alan H. Guth of the article “Inflationary Cosmology: Exploring the Universe from the Smallest to the Largest Scales,” which was published Feb. 11 as part of Science magazine’s tribute to Einstein.

In his Lehigh speech, Kaiser will discuss particle cosmology, a branch of physics that explores the fundamental interactions between the universe’s smallest units of matter and how they contribute to our understanding of the universe’s behavior.

The Big Bang theory of the universe’s origin, Kaiser says, has successfully explained some basic features of the universe while creating new puzzles.

Cosmic inflation, a variant of the Big Bang theory proposed in 1981, posits that the infant universe passed through a phase of exponential expansion driven by a negative pressure vacuum energy density. Quantum fluctuations in the microscopic region of the early universe, magnified to cosmic size, became the seeds for the growth of structure in the universe.

The Feigl Lecture was established by Lehigh’s department of physics in memory of Frank J. Feigl, who served 21 years on the department’s faculty until his death in 1988. A well-read advocate of liberal education, Feigl was renowned for his research into the impurities and defects in semiconducting materials and insulators, and was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005

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