Christian Long

George Smoot: The Design of the Universe

In TED Talks on May 4, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Reflection by BENEDIKT K.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

George Smoot:  The Design of the Universe

The universe is obviously not the simplest thing in our world, but its exact design baffles astrophysicists until the present day. From dark matter to quantum fluctuations, a lot of jargon usually fills discussions about the structure of the universe, or just about any conversation with the universe as its main topic. By its very nature, the universe is a high flying topic, be it since it represents the entirety of existence, or “simply” since it is where all known matter resides.

But George Smoot does quite well a job at explaining the structure of the universe to someone not well read in the subject. While it is still not something you can give your average 9 year old hobby astronomer, it is not that hard to understand without all too much of a background in physics or astronomy. The phenomenology is interesting and the presentation is interactive, with several 3d models that can not easily be described in words other than awesome.

In terms of the actual substance of the talk however, I was disappointed to some extent. While Reese does present very interesting material, anyone who is moderately interested in the field, even without any mathematical background, is familiar with most, if not all of it. So in terms of actual information, to those really interested in the field will be fairly disappointed, or at least I was. The talk is however a very good introductory session to the structure of our universe, not focusing too much on one point in particular and giving a fairly broad view over the subject. It is like your “building a universe 101”, highly interesting, not hard to understand and it presents enough ideas to spurn further thought.

The idea of quantum effects that were highly significant in the early universe, due to its density and temperature, still reigning the structure of the macrocosm is something that I find fascinating. Once you look at your television and think that all of this may have been created simply by some quark randomly going in one direction instead of perpendicular to that, life in itself and the world around you seems a lot more precious, more fragile than before. A combination of all effects, large or small, dark or observable matter is what many scientists seek for, and somewhere here it is, waiting to be found by someone.

I did not find the talk all so interesting because of the evidence it presents. It is more the implications that are presented, and the way they are presented that intrigued me. The three dimensional models i find, again, extremely fascinating, and how we believe the universe to look from an outsiders perspective is always something intriguing. Smoot’s talk is itself very layman friendly. the effects of light traveling, aka the time distortion is presented, a short history of the universe is given, and most of the concepts are visualized in one way or another, making it an extremely interesting and intriguing presentation.


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