Canadian wins cosmology prize

Universe evolution timeline

Dr. Richard Bond, leading Canadian cosmologist, astronomer, and astrophysicist, was recently awarded the Gruber Cosmology Prize for his many contributions to the field.

“Richard Bond, PhD, director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Cosmology and Gravity Program, was the recipient of the 2008 Cosmology Prize of the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation in affiliation with the International Astronomical Union. He was honored for groundbreaking theoretical work on structure formation and evolution of the universe.” (Gruber Press Release)

Bond’s contributions to cosmology, which is the branch of astronomy concerned with universe evolution, brings cosmologists one step closer to their ultimate goal: having a complete model that explains how the universe has evolved since the Big Bang.

Cosmologists have always had an advantage in studying the evolution of the universe because they can see billions of years into the past very easily. (No, not with a time machine, all they require is a telescope!)

In general, the farther the distance that someone looks with a telescope, the further back in time they are looking. In simplest terms this is because the light being emitted from any object, such as from another planet, travels at a constant speed. While the speed of light seems instantaneous to us, over vast stellar distances the light from another planet can take years to reach us on Earth. Therefore, the image that a telescope captures of a very distant planet is an image of how it was maybe 10 billion years ago, since light doesn’t instantaneously travel to Earth.

If there had have been sufficient light during the time of the Big Bang, then cosmologists could simply use data collected from telescopes to determine exactly what happened in these first few seconds of universe evolution. However, since there was not enough light, they must make a compromise between theory and observation. Cosmologists must see if what they theorize about the Big Bang fits with what they can now observe about universe evolution.

Amongst this compromise of theory and observation is some of Bond’s contributions to cosmology. Cosmic Microwave Radiation (CBR), discovered in 1965, is one of the cosmologists’ best pieces of evidence for the Big Bang. Their theories predicted that this radiation that fills the entire universe is leftover from the Big Bang, so it is important for them to see if the observations that they make about it fit with their theories and calculations. In some of Bond’s work on this radiation,

“Bond theorized and developed detailed calculations to demonstrate that minute fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation, the photon afterglow of the Big Bang, would provide key clues to the fundamental cosmological parameters of shape, size, age and composition, in particular through the imprint of acoustic peaks and troughs on this “first light.” (Gruber Press Release)

Overall, Bond’s work on the CBR brings cosmologists closer to being able to combine theory, observation, and say with certainty that they know what happened in the first few seconds of the universe’s life.

Read more about Bond’s many contributions to cosmology and the 2008 Gruber Cosmology Prize >>