Neil Turok (right) and former Perimeter postdoc Steffen Gielen
“Big bounce” work earns cosmology award for Turok and Gielen
by Tenille Bonoguore
With second- and third-prize wins, Perimeter research is recognized at Buchalter Cosmology Prizes for fourth year running.
Perimeter Institute Director Neil Turok and former Perimeter postdoc Steffen Gielen have won second prize in the annual Buchalter Cosmology Prize for their work probing the genesis of the universe.
It is the fourth win in as many years for Perimeter researchers, whose work has been honoured each year that the awards have existed. The award recognizes Turok and Gielen’s paper, “Perfect Quantum Cosmological Bounce,” which grapples with an hypothesis called the “big bounce.”
Perimeter-affiliated researchers also took third prize: Associate Faculty member Cliff Burgess and Associate PhD student Peter Hayman share it with three other collaborators for their paper “Magnon Inflation: Slow Roll with Steep Potentials.”
First prize went to Lasha Berezhiani of the Max Planck Institute for Physics and Justin Khoury of the University of Pennsylvania for their paper “Theory of Dark Matter Superfluidity.”
A powerful bounce
Despite the widespread popularity of the big bang theory, there are a number of competing ideas as to how our universe actually began. “Big bounce” cosmology posits that a previous universe contracted into a big crunch that led to our universe’s big bang beginning.
Turok and Gielen’s work brought quantum mechanics into the scenario, and showed how a previous universe could approach the singularity point and then skip over it to the big bang moment.
The work was cited by the judging committee as “an important work demonstrating that a combination of quantum theory and general relativity predicts a bounce smoothly bridging the previous collapse of the universe to the origin of a new expansion.”
The prize was created in 2014 by astrophysicist-turned-entrepreneur Ari Buchalter as a way to encourage boundary-pushing research into fundamental questions about the universe.
“I’d like to thank Dr. Buchalter for creating this prize, which deliberately encourages nascent ideas,” said Turok. “Our work was a first attempt at a simpler and more predictive picture of cosmology. We have already learned a lot from this new perspective, which has both revealed flaws in popular paradigms and suggested new lines of enquiry that hold great promise. There is much more to come watch this space!”
Gielen, who this month started a research fellowship at the University of Nottingham, said the win was more than recognition of what the researchers had done, but also motivation to keep pursuing this path of inquiry.
“I think the award recognizes the need for new ideas about the early universe, which go beyond the ‘established wisdom’ of a big bang followed by inflation,” Gielen said.
“I see the prize as motivation for developing our model further to a stage where it can really challenge mainstream ideas about cosmology.”
Perimeter has quickly emerged as a global centre for new “bounce” ideas about cosmology, as was shown with the “Bounce Scenarios in Cosmology” workshop last June.
Subsequent research in which Turok and collaborators Job Feldbrugge and Jean-Luc Lehners disproved two famous proposals for the origin of the universe was recently highlighted as an "Editors' Suggestion" in Physical Review D.
STRONG TRACK RECORD
Presented at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the Buchalter Cosmology Prizes honour new ideas or discoveries that have the potential to produce breakthrough advances in our understanding of the origin, structure, and evolution of the universe.
This is the fourth year that Perimeter-affiliated researchers have been honoured. Perimeter postdoctoral researcher Elliot Nelson won second prize, while Burgess also shared third place in the 2016 prizes.
The 2015 first prize went to Julian Barbour, Tim Koslowski, and Perimeter postdoc Flavio Mercati for the paper “Identification of a gravitational arrow of time,” while Perimeter researchers Niayesh Afshordi and Elliot Nelson won third prize for work that uses the curvature of the whole universe to make insights into particle physics.
And in 2014, the Buchalter’s inaugural year, first prize went to Perimeter Faculty member Lee Smolin and his collaborator Marina Cortês for their paper “The universe as a process of unique events,” while Perimeter researchers Matthew Johnson and Luis Lehner shared third prize with their co-authors for work simulating cosmic bubble collisions.