“The Big Bang and Beyond” Explores Universe’s Earliest Moments

smith college physics professor leads series on earliest era of universe

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

The Big Bang has technically been ongoing for nearly 14 billion years. As the universe continues to expand, the explosion that started it is still ringing out. The study of its earliest known moments, its first few minutes, continues to be examined.

Dr. Gary Felder
In The Big Bang and Beyond: Exploring the Early Universe, Dr. Gary Felder gives a much clearer definition of the Big Bang, while straightening out some of its most misunderstood concepts. Photo by Wondrium

In the last few decades, cosmology and astronomy have come so far that humanity can now learn about the earliest times in the known universe, shortly after its creation. For example, the James Webb Space Telescope’s infrared technology will make it possible for James Webb to look back further in time than any of its predecessors. This is made possible not only through 10-billion-dollar satellites, but also with physics.

Physics is often thought of as plugging numbers into formulas, but Dr. Gary Felder, Professor of Physics at Smith College, said in an exclusive interview that physics is more about understanding why a spinning top wobbles before falling over, for example. In his video series The Big Bang and Beyond: Exploring the Early Universe, he turns the spinning top into the universe to lay out its distant past.

Cosmology for Everyone

“What this course is about is our best understanding of the history and earliest known moments of our universe,” Dr. Felder said. “It is, in my mind, one of the biggest, most fundamental questions we can ask: Where did all of this come from and how did the universe come to be how it is today? That turns out to be something that we can answer in much more detail than even a few decades ago.”

According to Dr. Felder, we live in a very exciting moment in cosmology and astronomy, in that scientists have made detailed, testable predictions that have shown that humans have a real understanding of processes that took place in outer space right after the Big Bang. It tells us more about how we all came to be and raises other interesting questions about what we still don’t know.

“[The Big Bang and Beyond] is current,” Dr. Felder said. “This stuff goes out of date fairly quickly as we make huge advances.”

A Lifelong Love of Physics

Dr. Felder has been interested in physics as long as he can remember.

“When I went to graduate school to study physics, I knew that what interested me the most is what feels like the most fundamental questions,” he said. “It can be fascinating learning about the chemical properties of different elements or how glasses work and that kind of thing, and I’m not saying those aren’t important and interesting topics, but for me personally, I got into physics because I want to know the basic laws that govern the universe.”

According to Dr. Felder, cosmology is a field that unites the biggest laws of nature and the smallest. He mentioned that his interest in the field also comes from his adviser, the well-known, Russian-American theoretical physicist Andrei Linde. Linde proposed the “chaotic inflation” theory in 1983, which says the Big Bang didn’t have to encompass every part of the early universe, but that expansion could happen anywhere in the universe that had enough potential energy.

“[Linde] is one of the greatest cosmologists in the world, and also just a wonderful human being, and just really shared with me that intense curiosity and fascination with understanding the basics of nature,” Dr. Felder said.

The Big Bang and Beyond: Exploring the Early Universe is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily