The Big Bang: From Humble Beginnings

There is one age-old question that has fascinated all people, especially scientists, philosophers, and theologians—where did our universe come from? After all the years we’ve spent trying to trace our steps back to our origins, the closest we can come to knowing is the Big Bang theory, and we will never exactly be sure how it happened. To stimulate curiosity among students, multiple departments from the College of Arts and Sciences have collaborated in creating the “Beginnings” lecture series, featuring eight lectures over the next seven months, by multiple professors from a diverse selection of departments.

Villanova’s “Beginnings” lecture series began with a presentation by Dr. Philip Maurone, Chair of the Department of Physics. In this presentation, Dr. Maurone gave an introduction to the basics of string theory. String theory is currently accepted as the closest contender we have for an explanation for everything. According to string theory, the smallest possible building blocks of matter are not point-like particles, but minimally small, one-dimensional vibrating strings of energy, which make up “quarks,” which in turn make up particles, then atoms, and finally molecules, which make up everything else as we know it.

In general, the big bang is best explained backwards: the universe is currently expanding, but everything inside it once took the form of pure energy, all condensed into one tiny spot smaller than a pinhead, which spontaneously began to expand into the universe we know at this moment. Based on calculations of the energy density in the universe, this occurred roughly 13.7 billion years ago. The rate at which the universe expands is not consistent, and has strangely increased over time, possibly due to the influence of “dark energy.” Though it seems like our universe is the limit to what actually exists, there is debate among scientists today as to whether or not alternate universes, with separate properties and laws of physics, actually exist.

Theories of the universe’s origin have been central to many religions throughout history. The earliest cosmologies come from Hinduism and Jainism (around 2000 BC and 600 BC, respectively) proposing a universe that has no origin, but exists in a never-ending cycle of infinite universes. Then came the Babylonian and Biblical accounts, which suggested that the earth and heavens float together in “waters of chaos” on the outside. More modern accounts such as the Big Bang theory, however, tend to take a more materialistic approach to explaining our existence. Though scientific and religious theories do not necessarily have to contradict each other on this subject, the main point behind the debate between the religious and secular over whether or not there is (or even could be) a purpose behind our universe, or if it all developed randomly on its own. Later lectures in the series will cover the spiritual matters of the subject, and hopefully will spark more interest among students in openly discussing the mystery that is our own existence.

The next lecture in the series, “Stars, Galaxies, the Sun, and Earth” featuring Edward Guinan, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, will be hosted at 4:30 pm in Bartley 1011 on Tuesday, October 1st. The full list of lectures in the series is in the graphic.

By Matt Belson ’16

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