Last Modified: Thursday, April 10, 2014 3:03 PM
Cosmologist and Lake Charles native Mark Wyman will discuss the early stages of the universe’s development during a lecture at McNeese State University. He will present “What Happened Before There Was Light? The Universe’s First Moments and the Big Bang” at 7 p.m. Monday, April 14, at the Burton Conference Center. The lecture is hosted by the McNeese Honors College. Wyman, a McNeese alumnus, who currently is a postdoctoral fellow at New York University’s Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics.
A childhood fascination with the stars never left Wyman, who earned degrees in physics, math and literature at McNeese before moving on to grad school at Cornell University.
“My parents told me that when I was little I liked to carry around an encyclopedia of astronomy,” he said.
Wyman said discussions about the universe’s origins are always popular.
“In the purely technical sense of my scientific interest, the thing that is most interesting about it is that it is the period where the least is known,” he said.
“We understand the physical laws of this time, of everyday life quite well by now. To find new things, you have to go look for periods that are more exotic and different from our everyday experience. This could not be more different from our everyday experience. The amazing thing is we actually have observations that we can do to tell us something about then, we can speculate about it. We have observations we can do to test our speculation.
“On the purely speculative side, over the past century the theoretical physicists have worked out a very powerful framework of mathematical tools that we can use to study the universe. The mathematical tools have been tested against a lot of physical processes by now.
“On the observational side, there has been a great deal of progress over the last 20 years in studying some of the oldest light in the universe. In the aftermath of the big bang the universe was very hot, so there is light that is left over from that very early period called cosmic microwave background radiation. One of the big pushes over the past 20 years has been to build better and better telescopes to observe that ancient light. That is the best observational handle we have on the very early universe. That is one of the things I will be focusing on in the talk.”
Wyman said interesting findings have been made recently.
“There is a telescope in the South Pole called the BICEP telescope. It observes the polarization of the microwave background radiation. It was thought that it could potentially exist but had not been observed before. It is very hard to observe, but they were able to find a signal that was predicted 30 years ago. By finding the signal, we learned a great deal from it about the early universe.”
Lectures provide a chance for Wyman to take a break from research and share his expertise.
“Whenever you are among specialists all the time it is easy to get caught up in the minutiae, the technical details where you don’t know what the answer is and it is confusing, and you are trying to figure out something new and understand those details,” he said.
“That is a lot of hard work. Giving a public lecture gives you a chance to step back and think about not what you don’t know, but what you do understand and communicate that to other people, which is always an enjoyable experience. It is really fascinating and reminds you what you like about the job.”