Why This Universe?

Why This Universe?

The biggest ideas in physics, broken down. Join theoretical physicist Dan Hooper and co-host Shalma Wegsman as they answer your questions about dark matter, black holes, quantum mechanics, and more. Part of The University of Chicago Podcast Network.

Episodes

January 9, 2023 40 min

Special guest Katie Mack talks to us about how the universe might end.

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In today's different type of episode, we talk about the risks of a subtle kind of scientific misinformation.

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November 21, 2022 24 min

This episode will hurt your brain, or your money back.

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November 7, 2022 28 min

We interrupt our regular episodes to cover the exciting new discovery that the IceCube Neutrino Observatory announced on November 3rd, 2022.

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We pick up the story of string theory and explore the explosion of interest it experienced in the mid 1980s.

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October 3, 2022 25 min

Last time, we introduced the biggest open problem in theoretical physics - the problem of combining gravity with quantum mechanics. In this first part of a three-part series, we introduce the leading candidate for how to do that: String Theory.

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Quantum mechanics and general relativity are two of the most successful theories of science ever, but they don't necessarily fit together. Learn why physicists are trying so hard to discover a quantum theory of gravity, and why it's been such a challenge.

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We pick up last episode's theme of particle colliders and dive into the most exciting one running today - the LHC. What is it, how does it work, and what new physics can it still reveal?

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For the past century, physicists have been building particle colliders as a way to learn about the fundamental laws of physics. Today we talk about why smashing particles together has proven to be such a powerful tool.

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On May 12, 2022 astronomers revealed an image of the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Today we tell the story of what made this image possible.

Today's episode is sponsored by Wren. Sign up through https://www.wren.co/universe to make a difference in the climate crisis, and Wren will plant 10 extra trees in your name!

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Just like water changing to ice when it freezes, there were times in the universe's early history when reality changed in almost an instant. Today we dive into these cosmological phase transitions, and speculate about the strange objects these types of instant changes can create.

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May 23, 2022 25 min

When cosmology was still an infant science, a daring physicist wrote a theory of the beginning of time.  We revisit this theory and see what value we can still glean from it today.

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Today we explore different interpretations of quantum mechanics, from Copenhagen to the many-worlds hypothesis, in an attempt to uncover what quantum reality really is. This episode is a rebroadcast of one of our early favorites.

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A whirlwind of questions brings us to an odd conclusion: could reality be an illusion created by a quantum fluctuation of a brain?

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Here on Earth, we are constantly being showered by particles from outer space called cosmic rays. What do we know about where these particles really come from?

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Today we are rebroadcasting an earlier episode all about extra dimensions - How many dimensions of space are there? Could there be extra dimensions that are hidden from view?

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Special guest Dr. Diana Powell gives us the lay down on the field of exoplanet research, and on how these recent discoveries may shed light on the question of extraterrestrial life.

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Today we attempt to break down the basics of quantum field theory - our deepest theory of physics yet.

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Some people like to claim that psychology is just applied biology, which is just applied chemistry, which is just applied physics, and so on. Is there any truth to this? Or is it just our egos getting the better of us?

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Dan shares one of the biggest stories of his career - his discovery of an excess of gamma rays at the center of the Milky Way. Is this a sign of dark matter, or is it something less mysterious?

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