Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Detailing origin of the universe: Russian astrophysicists grab $500k Gruber Cosmology Prize

Detailing origin of the universe: Russian astrophysicists grab $500k Gruber Cosmology PrizeAFP Photo / NASA / JPL-Caltech

Two Russian astrophysicists have received a prestigious scientific award for their work in understanding the evolution and structure of the universe. Besides joining the scientific elite, the great minds will share a half a million-dollar prize.
The 2013 Gruber Cosmology Prize acknowledged the outstanding work by Vyacheslav Mukhanov and Aleksey Starobinsky, in transforming the humankind’s views on the “origin of the universe” and the mechanisms of its “formation of structure,” according to the Prize citation.

The two men will share the $500,000 prize that has been presented on September 3 during the international COSMO2013 conference held at the Stephen Hawking Centre for Theoretical Cosmology in Cambridge University.

The Gruber Foundation at Yale University says that the physicists provided answers to two major questions in cosmology, “why is the structure of the universe so uniform on the largest scales?  Where did the departures from that uniformity—such as galaxies, planets, and people—come from?"
Viatcheslav Mukhanov
Viatcheslav Mukhanov

Their research for “Developing Theory of Universe’s Earliest Moments” is being honored for its great contribution to the development of the foundations of modern theories of the universe's expansion, which began with their models in the late 1970s and early 1980s. 
In particular, they suggested that quantum fluctuations existed in the first moments after the Big Bang.

“The profound contribution to inflationary cosmology and the theory of the inflationary perturbations of the metric of space‐time. This theory, explaining the quantum origin of the structure of our universe, is one of the most spectacular manifestations of the laws of quantum mechanics on cosmologically large scales,”
the awards reads.

The theoretical investigations into the earliest moments of the universe for both men began in the late 1970s and early 1980s after astronomers in 1965 had discovered the cosmic microwave background.  
Alexei Starobinsky
Alexei Starobinsky

Aleksey Starobinsky used quantum mechanics and general relativity to try to answer how the universe might have originated. In 1979/80, he indicated that the universe underwent a rapid exponential expansion in the first moments of its existence. He developed the first working model of inflation and calculated the generation of gravitons during inflation.

The following year Starobinsky’s two colleagues Vyacheslav Mukhanov from the Moscow Physical-Technical Institute and now deceased G. V. Chibisov from the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow started working on quantum fluctuations within the Starobinsky model.  By 1981 Mukhanov and Chibisov discovered that Starobinsky’s fluctuations could play a role in germinating cosmic structures such as galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and superclusters of galaxies.

The Gruber Foundation at Yale University is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of science. The Gruber Prize in Cosmology is one of five international awards made by The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation. It honors leading cosmologists, astronomers and astrophysicists for theoretical, analytical, conceptual or observational discoveries “leading to fundamental advances in our understanding of the universe.”

Over the last thirteen years since the prize was established, it was awarded to such prominent figures as Charles Steidel, Alan Guth and Andrey Linde.

In 2003 Gruber Prize in Cosmology was awarded to another Russian scientist, Rashid Sunyaev for “pioneering work on the nature of the cosmic microwave background and its interaction with intervening matter.”