Can we understand why our universe is the way it is?
The Royal Society’s biggest thinkers have wrapped their minds around the mysteries of the universe for many decades.
Quantum entanglement (1964)
John Stewart Bell FRS
Is it possible that two remote particles can experience ‘quantum entanglement’, when changes to one are instantaneously reflected in the other? Bell’s interest in this conundrum improved quantum mechanics, promising new steps forward in quantum cryptography and a new generation of fast, secure computing.
Radioastronomy and Discovery of Pulsars (1968)
Martin Ryle FRS, Antony Hewish FRS, Jocelyn Bell Burnell FRS
Bell Burnell was working as a PhD student with Hewish when she spotted a regular pulse in her radio telescope read-out. Similar bursts of energy arriving from different areas of the sky indicated that rather than an alien SOS, she must have found neutron stars – the leftovers of exploding supernovae – which sweep beams of radio waves across the universe.
The first singularity theorem (1970)
Stephen Hawking FRS, Roger Penrose FRS
Einstein’s general theory of relativity says that gravity is a warping of space and time. So what happens at the theory’s extremes, in singularities where measurements of the gravitational field become infinite? Hawking and Penrose showed that singularities are not just theoretically possible, but must really exist in the universe – inside black holes. Hawking also applied this model in reverse, supporting the argument that the universe itself began in a singularity, known as ‘the Big Bang’.
Searching for the Higgs Boson (2009)
Peter Higgs FRS
Europe’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the most powerful particle accelerator ever built, tackling the most fundamental questions about our universe – such as, why does anything have mass? The LHC can recreate the frenzied conditions last seen in the universe a billionth of a second after the Big Bang. At that time, the theory goes, all particles had no mass. As the universe cooled, the Higgs force field formed, along with a Higgs boson. The influence of the Higgs boson on other particles is what gives them their mass – but the challenge is that nobody’s yet found one to prove the theory right.