The New Cosmology: From Quantum Fuzz to the Accelerating Universe

Course Description

Cosmology is in the midst of a golden age. The confluence of powerful ideas and a flood of data made possible by new instruments and observatories (e.g., HST, Keck 10 m telescopes, COBE Satellite, Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Tevatron at Fermilab) are leading to great advances in our understanding of the origin and evolution of the Universe. Questions once thought beyond the reach of science -- For example, What was the big bang? -- are now being studied seriously and tested by experiment and observation. Through the hot big-bang cosmological model we can confidently trace the history of the Universe from the quark soup that existed a fraction of a second after the beginning to the highly structured Universe we see today with galaxies, clusters of galaxies, superclusters, voids and great walls of galaxies (and maybe even larger things). Cosmologists have found that the galaxies and clusters of galaxies within the Universe are held together by dark matter, known only by its gravitational effects, that the spatial shape of the Universe is flat, and that the Universe is being driven apart by the repulsive gravitational action of a mysterious form of energy (called dark energy).

In addition to trying to understand the nature of the dark matter and dark energy, cosmologists are trying to extend their understanding of the Universe back to a time when the largest structures in the Universe existed as quantum mechanical fuzziness during a period of rapid expansion called inflation.

In this course, we will develop in detail the standard hot big-bang model, discussing the Hubble expansion, the cosmic microwave background radiation, big-bang nucleosynthesis, the age of the Universe, the quantity and composition of matter in the Universe, and the origin of large-scale structure through the attractive action of gravity. We will emphasize the deep connections between elementary-particle physics and cosmology and discuss the powerful ideas that today connect the quarks with cosmos: inflation, cold dark matter, baryogenesis, cosmological phase transitions, and Einstein's cosmological constant) and how a myriad of observations and experiments that are testing them (Sloan Digital Sky Survey, precision measurements of the cosmic microwave background, Keck and HST studies of the origin and evolution of galaxies, MAP and Planck satellites, DASI and more).

Through lectures, discussion sessions and hands-on experiences with telescopes, cryogenic detectors, and computers the participants will learn about the hot big bang model and exciting forefront developments in cosmology. The instructors will be University of Chicago faculty and research scientists as well as scientists from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, all of whom are actively involved in cosmological research. Field trips to Fermilab and the Pritzker Cosmology exhibit at the Adler Planetarium are planned.

If the success of the 1999 Chicago Cosmology Chautauqua is any guide, the participants will come away with a clear sense of what we know about the Universe and how we know it as well as the profound questions we asking today and the rapid progress being made in answering them.

For college teachers of: the physical sciences. Prerequisites: none

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