The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), remnant of the big bang.
Tonight, Robert Dijkgraaf will give a lecture on the Big Bang, in the DWDD University, live, on prime time television. This is fabulous and we owe Matthijs van Nieuwkerk and the Vara a round of applause for doing this . Most people will know Robert from his appearances on DWDD, from which one could conclude that he is a media personality, which he is. He is also the head of the KNAW, from which one could conclude that he is an administrator, which he is too. But if it was not clear from becoming a member of the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS), you have to take my word that he is above all a brillant physicist and mathematician, and that when he is among physicists or mathematicians he just talks shop about string vacua and D-modules. Just his thesis on Chern Simons gauge theory is brillant. One of his last papers, written with two Japanese, when he had long become a media star, head of the KNAW and head of the board of the VPRO, also happens to be about Chern Simons gauge theory and there is really nothing that would suggest that he could have been distracted.
In any case the real reason that you should all watch his lecture is because the Big Bang theory is a profound insight in the world we live in. It is an essential ingredient for understanding where this world comes from, and our place in the Universe. These questions have been with us from the dawn of man, ever since he could look up to a starry sky with a band of white from the milkyway. Great minds have give astoundingly precise answers about the solar system, given the primitive methods of observation. It is an enormous privilege to live in a time when humanity discovered that the universe is slightly less than 14 billion years old and the observable universe is a bit more than 14 billion light years in radius (because of the expansion of space you have to be careful with how you define that). Almost all of our knowledge of the universe was discovered during my lifetime, because of truly enormously improvement in telescopes. Modern cosmology today is a precission science that allows us to ask and answer scientific questions about the universe. By the way, one of the hottest new telescopes designed to “see” right at the edge of the observable universe is the Dutch LOFAR radio telescope. It has an extremely clever and innovative design that deserves to be one of the poster childs of Dutch high tech and innovation right next to our waterworks (and the chipmaking machines from ASML but that is an other story).
The other reason why it is so great that an eminent, socially adept string theorist is speaking about the big bang theory, is because of Sheldon Cooper in the television series “the big bang theory”. Many self proclaimed nerds, love this series, but really, this must be streak of masochism. Yes, the series is funny, but Sheldon Cooper and his friends are not exactly the role model you want to be compared with as a scientist or an engineer. Not only does one wonder how he ever gets a paper about string theory written if all he does is hang out in comic book shops (OK, I know, it is a sitcom), but the only normal likeable person in the series is Penny, who has not finished high school. Dear Einstein generation. Go learn about Einsteins general theory of relativity. If you are ambitious read this classic book from Wald, or these lecture notes from Gerard Hooft (‘t Hooft also happens to be a genius and he works in walking distance from the lab). Go read about the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker metric and try to understand the Hubble constant. Or go read Einstein, both his scientific papers and his more popular writing are fantastic. Or go looking around in these incredible video lectures on the website of the IAS, about math and physics as well as history, economics and sociology. But first go watch Robert Dijkgraaf. Then be merry, and eloquently discuss it with your friends.