Dr. Dan Hooper is a Senior Scientist and the Head of the Theoretical Astrophysics Group at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. He is also a Professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Wisconsin.
Dan told me about how his early aspirations as a youth were actually in music. It wasn’t until he took a class as an undergraduate in Relativity that the astrophysics bug bit him. Hard. Dan explained how he landed a post-doc position at Oxford and how he was later hired at Fermilab. Later, we chatted about his interest in the interface between particle physics and cosmology, Dark Matter and what neutrinos can tell us about the early universe. We finished with an overview of his new astrophysics book that explores the mysteries of the origin of the universe.
Dr. Brian Keating is an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. His specialty is cosmology, and he is the father of the original BICEP project (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization). Last year, Brian published a terrific, courageous book about his team’s research, some life lessons, and the challenges of scientific research: Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science’s Highest Honor. It’s now out in paperback.
This time, we expanded on the discussion in his book about his quest for the Nobel prize. At the core: what the polarization of the cosmic background radiation tells us about the Big Bang. We also delved into the theory of the multiverse and its relationship to the anthropic principle. Finally, find out how you could win a piece of a 4.5 billion year old asteroid.
Dr. Jim Gates is a theoretical physicist and currently the Brown Theoretical Physics Center Director, Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, Affiliate Mathematics Professor, and a Watson Institute for International Studies & Public Affairs Faculty Fellow at Brown University. He is known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory.
We opened the show with a discussion of Jim’s early career, a B.S. with a dual major in mathematics and physics at MIT and, later, his Ph.D. in physics, also from MIT. In the heart of the podcast, Jim explained Superstring theory—its successes, failures and issues with dark energy. He also explained supersymmetry and supergravity for us. We finished with what’s considered the hottest topic in theoretical astrophysics. Jim is an extraordinary teacher and science communicator, so tune in and get your science hat on!
Dr. Jo Dunkley is a professor of Physics and Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. Her research is in cosmology, studying the origins and evolution of the universe. She holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics from University of Oxford.
Jo had an interesting path to her Ph.D. Her earliest love was mathematics, and soon she realized she could use math to answer questions about the real world. That led to a love for physics (at Cambridge) and getting her Master’s. While there, she discovered relativity and astrophysics, but another event inspired her to go for a Ph.D. In the second segment, we chatted about her true love, using computer code on supercomputers to model the universe and analyzing the Cosmic Microwave Background (the detectable aftermath of the Big Bang). Also discussed: inflation theory, dark matter and theories of the Multiverse.
Dr. Andrew Friedman is an astronomer, cosmologist, and data scientist. He’s currently an NSF funded Assistant Research Scientist at the University of California at San Diego Center for Astrophysics & Space Sciences. He is also a Research Affiliate in the MIT Program in Science, Technology and Society. He holds a Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics from Harvard.
We chatted about how science fiction inspired him as a youth to become a cosmologist. Also, how important it is to have a Ph.D. thesis advisor who’s enthusiastically supportive. Then, we got into some cool topics of cosmology: using Type Ia supernovae to measure the rate of expansion of the universe, why infrared observations of those stars are helpful, whether quantum entanglement suggests a substrate on which spacetime resides, the multiverse, and the implications of the Planck length and Higgs field for our very existence.
An app created by CERN scientists lets you experience the Big Bang in AR. Narrated by Tilda Swinton, you’ll go back in time 13.8 billion years and discover how space, time and the visible universe came to be. See the universe form in the palm of your hand. Witness the formation of the very first stars, our solar system, and the planet we call home. Immerse yourself in the primordial mystery of the early universe in space and watch events unfold around you, in your own physical environment. Learn about the microscopic building blocks that make up everything – and everyone – we know, and find out if we really are made of stars. See the universe form as you stretch out your hand in front of your camera. Create the very first particles and atoms. Make a star explode, create a supernova and explore the nebula. See our solar system come together and hold the Earth in the palm of your hand.Find out how we are made from stars, take a #starselfie and share it with your friends. App Store: Free
Dr. Brian Keating is an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. His specialty is cosmology, and he is the father of the original BICEP project (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) that sought to unravel one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the Big Bang. He is also the author of over 100 scientific publications. We chatted about his early years at age 12 in New York and the spark that ignited his interest in astrophysics. And then we got very geeky on cosmology. Brian recently published a terrific, courageous book about his team’s research, some life lessons, the challenges of scientific research, and he makes some valuable suggestions concerning changes to the Nobel Prize award process. After listening to our chat, you’ll want to read his excellent book.
Dr. Chiara Mingarelli is an astrophysicist currently working at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics where she’s a Flatiron Fellow. Chiara received her Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham (UK) in 2014, and her specialty is the study of gravitational waves: ripples in spacetime born of a cataclysmic collision of distant, super-massive objects. She’s been a Marie Curie International Fellow at Cal Tech and has worked at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. We chatted about her early years, how she was inspired by the night skies of her hometown in Canada and her early years studying mathematics and physics. There were definitely some challenges in her early career, but her mathematician father nurtured her through. If you’re curious about gravitational waves and Pulsars, this is the show for you.
Rich Smith, at The Motley Fool, is enthusiastic about a new book by Dr. Ethan Siegel, a Lewis & Clark College astrophysics professor, called Treknology. In that book, Dr SIegel describes some Star Trek technologies that we could see in our lifetime. Namely, transparent aluminum (oxynitride), deflector shields and tractor beams. The book is cool and author Smith’s essay about it is also cool.
Dr. Kiki Sanford is a neurophysiologist with a Ph.D from U.C. Davis. She’s a popular science communicator and creator of This Week in Science (TWIS) podcast and radio show. This is her third appearance on Background Mode. In this episode, Kiki and I once again get geeky with science: an in-depth discussion of 1) Whether it’s a bad idea for our AI agents to have human names, 2) How attitudes about some science affects all science budgeting, 3) The wholistic system effects of climate change, 4) A fascinating discussion about the human microbiome and how the digestion of key nutrients affects whole body health and 5) How astronomers use Pulsars to detect gravitational waves. Kiki has a special way of inspiring one to learn about … everything, so don’t miss this very special guest.
Dr. Kelly Holley-Bockelmann is an Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University. Her research specialty is black holes and gravitational waves. For as long as she can remember, she wanted to be an astrophysicist. In our interview she tells the story about, as a teenager, lying in a field under dark Montana skies and gazing at the Milky Way (the edge of our galaxy). She wondered about all those stars and planets and whether there were other civilizations out there looking up at their own starry skies. It was transformative. Today, she uses a Mac and supercomputers to study how black holes generate ripples in the fabric of spacetime and deepen our astronomical understanding and perspective. Kelly, her students and associates are also devoted Mac users, and she tells me why.
Dr. Christine C. Moran is an astrophysicist who specializes in computational astrophysics, high performance computing and big data visualization. She’s interested in the gravitational force, which she’s described as the most beautiful and mysterious of all of nature’s fundamental forces. In her undergraduate life, she studied both physics and philosophy, great background for her Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Zurich. Along the way, she’s also worked for, notably, SpaceX and the M.I.T. Media Lab. She’s also a Mac user and iOS app developer. We talked about her interest in gravity, computation, and hobbies: flying and martial arts (Kung Fu). Also, in November, 2016, she returned from the South Pole (radio) telescope where she did research on the Cosmic Microwave Background. Come take a cosmic journey with John and Christine as she tells her story.