The Lecture by Nobel Laureate George Smoot!

The 2006 Nobel Laureate for Physics, Dr. George Smoot was in college for a couple of days as a part of the Nobel Initiative by Honeywell and it was a really wonderful experience listening to his lecture on “The History and Fate of the Universe“. The members of the Astro Club at Coep did have a nice time with him. However I did not get much of a chance to interact with him.

There were two group discussion sessions on “Instrumentation for Astronomy” and “Data acquisition” which were reported excellent. Considering my limited interest and consequently my knowledge in that field , I did not go! But I was present for the lunch, which was plentiful to say the least! There Dr. Smoot gathered us all around and shared with us his thoughts about this particular visit to India. It brought a smile to hear him, and his nice gesture of “Namaste” and bowing down, drew warm applause from the crowd!

Then in the afternoon came the big lecture. It was in the college Auditorium, specially decorated for the occasion. During the course of his lecture Dr. Smoot first introduced us to the theories proposed by some of the greatest minds in the field, starting obviously from Einstein and moving on to those who had solved the equations of his theory if relativity. He explained the expanding nature of the universe by showing some galaxies on the surface of an expanding balloon. He also showed slides of the instruments used to measure cosmic background radiation, while also telling some anecdotes of his research.

Another great analogy which he told was regarding the necessity of a very large mass at very large distance to manipulate a cluster of galaxies without disturbing their mutual positions. Mr. Smoot explained how it was analogous to trying to change the motion of a group of feathers in air without disturbing their mutual velocities! It was brilliant.

Then there was the excellent 3D video of the galaxies plotted with earth as center. It was followed by data proofs of how “Though the earth was round but the universe had to be flat.” Dr. Smoot also pointed out the problem of the “fluctuations in the cosmic wave patterns being not the same amplitude as expected if the big bang had taken place“, which I must admit , I could understand only in principle. Then there was the video of the universe with dark matter shown in white, and progressively increasing density of visible matter whenever enough dark matter congregated most. He later presented some graphs which were related to quantum mechanics.

Dr. Smoot was asked about the assumption of “light speed = constant” and also about the problem of we knowing about the space only in our solar system and just beyond whether our hypothesis was valid. To which Dr. Smoot replied that the big bang theory and other recent hypothesis have been able to satisfactorily explain all events after about 10^(-30) seconds of the big bang. However he also emphasized the attitude to be open to other theories provided they can explain things in a more effective way.

Overall, it was a wonderful one of a kind lecture. One got the feeling that there is lots to be done in order to achieve something as special as the Nobel Prize and that our current mundane technical subjects, though important now, could not be called as the basis of that special something. The achievement of something original and rightly ‘out of the world’ was something truly incomparable!

There was also a career fair and an exhibition of Honeywell products where the company interacted with the students. A Flight Simulator was the happening place at the exhibition. The ongoing quiz and slogan competition also drew large participation. Giveaway bags and other prizes were a hit with the students!

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