Archive for Hiranya Peiris

Cosmology: Galileo to Gravitational Waves – with Hiranya Peiris

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on September 9, 2016 by telescoper

Here’s another thing I was planning to post earlier in the summer, but for some reason forgot. It’s a video of a talk given at the Royal Institution earlier this year by eminent cosmologist Prof. Hiranya Peiris of University College London. The introduction to the talk goes like this:

Modern fundamental physics contains ideas just as revolutionary as those of Copernicus or Newton; ideas that may radically change our understanding of the world; ideas such as extra dimensions of space, or the possible existence of other universes.

Testing these concepts requires enormous energies, far higher than what is achievable by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and in fact, beyond any conceivable Earth-bound experiments. However, at the Big Bang, the Universe itself performed the ultimate experiment and left clues and evidence about what was behind the origin of the cosmos as we know it, and how it is evolving. And the biggest clue is the afterglow of the Big Bang itself.

In the past decade we have been able to answer age-old questions accurately, such as how old the Universe is, what it contains, and its destiny. Along with these answers have also come many exciting new questions. Join Hiranya Peiris to unravel the detective story, explaining what we have uncovered, and how we know what we know.

Hiranya Peiris is Professor of Astrophysics in the Astrophysics Group in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at University College London. She is also the Principal Investigator of the CosmicDawn project, funded by the European Research Council

She is also a member of the Planck Collaboration and of the ongoing Dark Energy Survey, the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Her work both delves into the Cosmic Microwave Background and contributes towards the next generation galaxy surveys that will yield deep insights into the evolution of the Universe.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about “Cosmic Dawn” but I’ve never met her…

Anyway, here is the video. It’s quite long (almost an hour) but very interesting and well-presented for experts and non-experts alike!

Update: I’ve just heard the news that Hiranya is shortly to take up a new job in Sweden as Director of the Oscar Klein Centre for Cosmoparticle Physics. Hearty congratulations and good luck to her!

 

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Responding to the Mail

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on March 24, 2014 by telescoper

What was that quotation by Oscar Wilde, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us aren’t reading the Daily Mail“? Last week that particular element of the gutter press took the opportunity to display its aptitude for racism and sexism in a snide piece about the appearance of two female (shock!) and non-white (horror!) scientists on Newsnight. It’s not really a surprise that the Daily Mail would publish such a scummy article, but it’s still depressing to see how the minds of some people work.

For the record I’ll say that I only know one of the scientists concerned personally (Hiranya Peiris of University College, London). Speaking as a cosmologist, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that if someone from the press had phoned me up and asked me to suggest an expert to invite onto a television show to explain the BICEP2 results then Hiranya would have been right at the top of my list – because  she’s a brilliant scientist (in exactly the relevant area) and a gifted communicator to boot. Is it really so hard to grasp the idea that a brilliant scientist can be female? Or born in Sri Lanka?

Anyway, University College was quick to criticize the Daily Fail in an open letter from Professor David Price, Vice-Provost for Research. Meanwhile a flurry of enraged emails was going around the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society (of which I am a member) that led to a collective response being issued on Friday.

Here follows the RAS statement on the matter which I reproduce here in full, apart from the link to the offensive Daily Mail “article” which I have removed because I don’t want them to profit from traffic sent by this blog.

The statement was written by RAS President David Southwood and RAS Press Officer Robert Massey who are to be congratulated for their measured yet forceful riposte. The last two paragraphs are particularly good.

I’m glad the task of responding to the Daily Mail wasn’t left to me. I would have been far less diplomatic.

–0–

The Council and President of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) have offered unequivocal support to astronomers Dr Hiranya Peiris and Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock. An article in the Daily Mail suggested that they were selected to appear on an episode of theBBC Newsnight programme on the basis of their ethnic background, nationality and gender.

The two astronomers discussed results from the BICEP-2 experiment announced earlier this week, which offered evidence of gravitational waves in the early universe and for a rapid expansion of the cosmos (known as inflation) shortly after the Big Bang. If confirmed, this discovery is of huge significance and was rightly covered by news media all over the world.

Dr Peiris is a world-leading cosmologist now based at University College London (UCL), with degrees from Cambridge and Princeton. In 2012 she received the RAS Fowler Award in recognition of her immense contribution to her field at an early stage of her research career.

Dr Aderin-Pocock has a background in space engineering and science communication and is now co-presenter of theBBC’s The Sky at Night, a role which demands the ability to convey complex ideas to the public at large.

Both scientists are thus exceptionally well qualified to discuss the BICEP-2 results and were natural choices for the Newsnight piece.

In the Daily Mail article, columnist ‘Ephraim Hardcastle’ (the nom de plume of Peter Mackay) not only ignored their expertise entirely but incorrectly suggested that the BICEP-2 team consisted only of white, male, American astronomers.

Astronomy world-wide has long ceased to be a closed male world and the backgrounds of astronomers have long been culturally diverse. Specifically in Britain, women now make up 27% of UK university lecturers in astronomy [see e.g. the pdfRAS Demographic Survey (2011)] and lead space- and ground-based research projects alike.

RAS President Prof. David Southwood commented: “Astronomy did not begin in Western Europe and has always been an international science. Today researchers from many nations and many cultures routinely work together to achieve shared goals. In the UK, our field is enriched by some of the most talented people from all over the world who choose to join teams in this country.

“It is deeply regrettable that the Daily Mail column chose to overlook the scientific achievements of the BICEP-2 team and the expertise of Hiranya and Maggie and instead concentrate on their skin colour and gender. The implied and deplorable message  that astronomy is the exclusive business of people who are white and male  completely ignores the successful efforts made by the RAS and other scientific bodies to create an environment where science can be done by those best suited to do it, irrespective of background culture, nationality or gender.”