Scientists gather to explore cosmology and gravitational physics

Expert theorists gather at the biannual Testing Gravity conference to share research on testing laws of gravity

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Image courtesy of Testing Gravity

By: Kitty Cheung, Staff Writer

To explore the mysteries surrounding gravity and dark matter, SFU invited cosmologists, astrophysicists and expert theorists to Testing Gravity, a biannual conference aimed at investigating the laws of gravity.

The conference was organized by SFU physics and cosmology professors, Dr. Levon Pogosian, Dr. Andrei Frolov, and PhD candidate Tomas Galvez. With its first edition taking place in 2015, this year’s conference was held from January 23–26 at SFU Harbour Centre in Vancouver, garnering participation from 120 students and scholars from 16 countries.

“We wanted to encourage conversation between separate scientific communities working on topics related to gravity. For example, cosmologists work on gravity to explain the evolution of the universe, while another group would focus on studying black holes, and a third group would test laws of gravity in the lab to check [if] there are extra dimensions of space,” said Pogosian in an email interview with The Peak.

Traditionally, there hasn’t been much exchange between these communities and it has become apparent to us that they would benefit greatly if they regularly met and exchanged notes.”

This four-day event consisted of a “school” of review lectures presented by speakers on key conference topics, around 70 different talks, and a poster session. Featured updates included findings on how to test gravity with gravitational wave detectors, such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which announced the discovery of gravitational waves radiating from colliding black holes in 2016, as well as the Event Horizon Telescope, which is used to study the black hole in the Milky Way. Updates were also announced from the Dark Energy Survey, a project to observe supernovae and map hundreds of millions of galaxies.

Galvez, having assisted in the organization of the conference for the past three editions, found that “As a current graduate student . . . the opportunity of interacting with the main players of our field allows us to know about what are the ongoing challenges and open questions in cosmology and strong gravity.” The attendance of graduate and undergraduate students both from SFU and internationally allowed for discussions with “world-class scientists . . . in a welcoming environment,” he further commented.

When speaking of the importance of sharing ideas within the academic community, Pogosian stated, “[Often] people tried solving these problems [in understanding gravity] in isolation, one at a time. But it is possible, and maybe even likely, that these puzzles are connected and a single idea could help us solve several of them at once … [Testing Gravity] stimulates discussions across a broad range of ideas and encourages the community to think ‘out of the box’.”

It’s extremely rewarding to see all [of these] brilliant people come from around the world to meet at SFU, and have a great time talking to each other about their latest work,” Pogosian continued. “It’s rewarding to see a lot of students, both from SFU and outside, getting exposed to this and seeing first hand how progress in science is made.”

Testing Gravity was held with support from the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences, TRIUMF, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, and the Canadian Institute of Particle Physics.

The fourth Testing Gravity conference is planned for January 2021. “Our formula is simple — invite the best people from around the world, provide them with some coffee and opportunity to talk to each other, and they will have a great time doing science together. That’s how it [has] worked so far,” Pogosian concluded.