Science (and food) the world over

I’m in the midst of four weeks which I’ll have spent mostly on the road, and as a working trip, it’s a good opportunity to discuss some of the science I’m doing, for a change.

I spent last week at Lancaster University, at Origins 2005: The Origin of the Primordial Density Perturbation. Despite its location in the grey and damp North of England, the meeting was lots of fun, and sufficiently outside of my area of expertise that I actually learned quite a bit. We know that the Universe today is filled with massive galaxies, each made of billions of stars and, we think, even more dark matter. Tracing these galaxies backwards in time, we know that these huge lumps must have once been tiny fluctuations in a nearly uniform universe, and we see these tiny fluctuations reflected in the Cosmic Microwave Background (the CMB, the main subject of my research). The meeting addressed some fundamental questions about these fluctuations: Where did they come from? How did they evolve? I was happy to get to talk about some work by my smart and energetic students, looking at some of the work they’ve done examining the pattern of CMB fluctations on the largest scales and other topics on the generation and evolution of these perturbations and how they’re reflected in the CMB.

This week I’m at Berkeley and the Computational Research Division at LBL, where I’m visiting my colleagues Julian Borrill, Radek Stompor, and Chris Cantalupo, mostly to finish a paper on a software package called Microwave Anisotropy Dataset Computational Analysis Package (MADCAP). We developed MADCAP to analyze data from experiments probing the fluctuations in the CMB. More properly, the others developed it, while I provided some background theorizing, a very early version of some of the algorithms, and moral support. MADCAP has been used to analyze data from the MAXIMA and BOOMERANG experiments — which gave the first high precision measurements of the geometry of the Universe — and is currently being used to analyze the successors to those experiments (MAXIPOL and B2K — not the rappers), as well as in the planning for the upcoming Planck Surveyor mission to be launched by ESA in about 2007.

Having lived in the Bay Area for five years, I also plan on spending time with lots of old friends and eating Mexican food, dim sum, and ‘dem fantastic ribs from Betelnut in San Francisco.

Finally, next week it’s back to the UK for a quick stop at home before I head off to Warwick for Physics 2005: a Century After Einstein, a meeting sponsored by the Institute of Physics, where I’ll be talking about the detection of Gravity Waves using the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation. These gravity waves, if they exist, are expected to be yet another relic of the early universe, one of the hallmarks of an early epoch of Inflation, a mechanism invented in the early 80s thought to be responsible for the flat geometry of the Universe, the overall uniform temperature of the CMB (about three degrees Kelvin) as well as the tiny primordial perturbations observed by the CMB experiments and discussed at the meeting in Lancaster last week. With luck, I’ll also get a chance to discuss work I’m doing with yet another smart and energetic student on gravity waves generated by supermassive black holes (millions or billions times the mass of the sun!) which in the last few years we’ve learned live at the centers of many galaxies.