Two LSU scientists believe they’re on the verge of answering the question most everyone will ask themselves at some point in their lives: How did we get here?
The Big Bang theory is one of the more popular explanations. It says the universe was once an extremely hot, microscopic cluster of matter and energy until a sudden, violent force caused it to spring forth, expanding and cooling over billions of years and evolving into the series of galaxies that scientists have observed today.
But LSU assistant professor Parampreet Singh, and assistant research professor, Peter Diener, both in the LSU Department of Physics and Astronomy, say the Big Bang theory doesn’t truly explain what scientists are looking for, which is essentially the beginning of time.
Singh and Diener believe they can get to the bottom of the question through the Loop Quantum Gravity theory — a method where scientists attempt to figuratively hit the rewind button on time until they reach the true origin of the universe.
Singh and Diener recently received a $250,000 grant from the philanthropic John Templeton Foundation to test their idea.
They were among a pool of scientists from all around the world competing for a share of the foundation’s $4 million set aside to further research with the potential to expand the boundaries of scientific knowledge.
Singh and Diener chose to focus their proposal on the question that no one has answered yet.
The idea is that if researchers can explain the origin of the universe, they can predict its ultimate fate.
Singh explains that a layman can think of the universe as a balloon held by a small child blowing air in it and then letting the air drain out.
“As the balloon gets bigger and then smaller, it’s like the universe expanding and contracting,” Singh said.
Understanding the cycles is one step to understanding the origin of the universe, he said.
Diener adds that there are certain equations scientists use to understand the universe in its present form. By re-configuring those equations, or running them backward, scientists can rewind the universe from its present state to its origins.
In other words, if there were an equation to describe the flow of the Mississippi River’s north-to-south flow, Singh and Diener said they are working with equations that would cause the river to flow south-to-north.
The two researchers said they are specifically looking for the point when gravity loses its pulling force of
attraction and does the opposite — become a repellent force.
Diener said the research will at first require the use of LSU supercomputers, each the size of about 6,000 desktop computers.
Later on in the research, the scientists will take their preliminary results and feed them into even larger computers — the size of 100,000 desktop computers — “for when things get more complicated,” Diener said.
“Because of the complexity of the problems each simulation we do will take months at a time,” Diener said. “We have to do enough so we can trust our results.”
The two have allowed themselves an open-ended timetable to complete their work. And despite its complexity, Singh said they are “quite confident” they will find what they’re looking for.
“The answer to the mysterious question can tell us the fate of the universe,” Singh said. “We can predict whether it will keep expanding or die at some point.”