This morning, having rested after the Opening Ceremony at Lindau, and Spain’s fantastic match in the European Cup Final, we have heard wonders from Brian Schmidt – 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the acceleration of the universe – who opened the conference with a very stimulating talk on the Standard Model of Cosmology, in a huge auditorium, packed with young researchers eager for the latest news about the Universe.
What surprised me was that Schmidt gave a rather technical talk, although very complete, full of formulae, masterfully describing concepts as difficult as event horizons and conformal diagrams of the expansion of the Universe, showing detailed expressions for the luminosity distance as a function of redshift and other cosmological parameters. I got the impression that I was attending one of the many conferences on cosmology that I regularly attend. It is true that students who filled the room are selected among the most brilliant in the world, and for them coming to Lindau can be seen as a reward, so it is perfectly possible that many of them knew in advance some of these concepts. However, I missed the usual period for questions at the end of the talk, in order to properly measure their understanding of it. I learned afterwards that questions are not allowed after Nobel Prize talks … what a pity!
Schmidt was followed by John Mather and George Smoot, co-PI’s of the COBE satellite, Nobel Prize winners in Physics 2006 for the measurement of the black body spectrum and the anisotropies of the cosmic microwave background. The former began with his memories from childhood how he felt the need to “build equipment for measuring things,” and how during his PhD thesis he tested several instruments to measure the CMB spectrum from Earth without much success, until he finally had the opportunity to send a satellite into space. His tenacity is a good example of “know how” in science and a huge incentive for the young people who heard him at Lindau. Today, Mather is the Project Scientist of the John Webb Space Telescope of NASA, the future replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope. Mather then described a wide spectrum of future projects in Astronomy, some under construction, others recently approved, which showed the need for coordination between the various space agencies, American, European, Japanese, Russian and Canadian. His talk was a lesson in humility and inspiration for future generations of astronomers.
Then came Smoot to brilliantly close the cycle, describing the technological advances that are allowing humanity to make ever more detailed maps and explore deeper into the universe, which has leads us to understand better the evolution of the universe from the very beginning at the Big Bang until today, 13.7 billion years later. These observations allow us to obtain the cosmological parameters with increasing accuracy, as well as to rule out alternative models of cosmology. Recent progress in this field is truly spectacular, from a science which was fundamentally speculative in the middle of the last century to another which is almost experimental, although we still do not understand the nature of almost 95% of all energy and matter in the Universe.