You are here

Rocky Kolb Explores Our Universe’s Origins

23 May 2014

On May 7, 2014, astrophysicist Rocky Kolb presented “The Quantum and the Cosmos” to over 350 members of the public at Science World’s OMNIMAX Theatre, as part of the Unveiling the Universe lecture series hosted with TRIUMF. In his lecture, Rocky related abstract concepts of the universe down to tangible, every day items, like bananas, allowing for even the youngest members of the audience to marvel the hardest questions in modern physics. This lecture highlighted that there is still so much yet to be discovered through studying the very early universe.

Rocky’s talk centered on the origin and speed of expansion of the universe, including discussions on the latest research where scientists are searching for evidence of dark energy and dark matter. The universe that we see and know, the planets, stars, people, gases and chemicals only make up 5% of the matter of the entire universe. The remaining 95% of the universe is made up of dark energy (70%) and dark matter (25%).  They are both referred to as “dark” because they are a mystery to modern science.

There are a number of theories about what makes up dark matter. A prominent idea is WIMPs or weakly interacting massive particles. These almost untraceable particles are believed to saturate the universe (there are over ten million in a room, at a time) and move at speeds of a million kilometers per hour. They are described as weakly interacting because they move through planets, stars and even people without affecting them. These WIMPs fascinate researchers and scientists who have set up experiments across the globe to prove their existence.

One such series of experiments involves burying detectors deep underground, away from background radiation and interference on the surface of the planet, thereby allowing WIMPs to interact with detectors. This would help researchers prove the existence of WIMPs and, in turn, explain how the universe functions.

Another experiment takes place at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland. Dark matter and WIMPs are believed to be leftovers from the Big Bang. One of the experiments at the LHC is trying to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang. One theory believes that such conditions would create dark mater and WIMPs and, therefore, prove their existence.

This talk gave a glimpse into the complexity of the universe as well into scientists’ efforts to discover answers about the origin and make up of the universe. Follow the link below to see Rocky’s entire lecture or to watch the other lectures in the series.

As a researcher, Rocky's interests lie in the application of particle physics to cosmology and astrophysics. Much of his work has involved the study of the very early Universe—inflation, dark matter, dark energy, cosmological/astrophysical limits on particle properties, baryogenesis, phase transitions, axions, and so on. Rocky is the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago where he is also the Dean of the Physical Sciences. He is a member of the Enrico Fermi Institute and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics.

This talk was part of on an ongoing collaboration between TRIUMF and Science World, known as “Unveiling the Universe,” an outreach event that brings world-renowned physicists and scientists to Science World. Through this free public lecture, young children, families, and even those who live stream the event to their living room have access to the latest research about our Universe.

Rocky Kolb’s “The Quantum and the Cosmos” was the 6th in the series and all videos are archived and available to stream at:

Join us this summer to hear Dr. Makoto Fujiwara speak on antimatter, the “twin” of all matter in the Universe, and how recent studies have helped shaped our understanding of the Universe.

-by Kyla Shauer, Communications Assistant