Laboratory Cosmology

4 - 9 September 2006

Venue: Lorentz Center@Oort

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The study of the formation and evolution of the Universe poses very deep and fundamental questions. However, cosmology is unique among the sciences. We, the observers, are an integral part of the Universe; we cannot rerun the experiment under different conditions to see what happens. We are limited to observing the Universe and trying to formulate theories that may explain our observations.

Despite these difficulties current cosmological theory has been very successful in explaining the present state of the Universe. However, serious problems remain. While the hot big bang model has been universally accepted for decades we are still no wiser as to what caused the big bang. Matter as we know it seems to account for a mere 5% of the contents of the Universe, while the nature of the other 95% (dark matter, dark energy) remains unknown. There is evidence of a period of inflation, a rapid, accelerated expansion of the early Universe, but we do not know what caused it and why.

In this regard we are fortunate that physics has certain universal patterns which yield fundamental and all-pervading unities right across the subject.

Condensed matter physics has many systems whose behaviour and mathematical form mirror, although on a different scale, the behaviour of the Universe as a whole. Superfluids and superconductors have structures of broken symmetry which correspond surprisingly closely to the broken symmetries of the quantum vacuum of the Universe and with behaviour sharing many aspects of the relativistic quantum field theories of particle physics. The same is true for aspects of liquid crystals. State-of-the-art experiments give insights into cosmological phenomena that are otherwise inaccessible to direct testing.

With this workshop we hope to address cosmological problems in condensed matter systems, both accessible to study in the laboratory, and able to mimic cosmological behaviour sufficiently to throw light on these universal questions. We intend to connect experimental and theoretical condensed matter physicists with cosmologists, particle physicists, astrophysicists and field theorists. The analogues already exist. The experiments are in place. This workshop will bring the practitioners of the two sides together for extensive discussions and cross-fertilisation.


Some issues we wish to address include:

·        Defect formation in annihilating boundaries, interfaces and branes

·        Cosmological constant as a vacuum energy: lessons from condensed matter

·        Horizons and black hole analogues.

·        Spontaneous vortex formation in systems with local gauge invariance – experimental status in superconductors

·        Inflation and the amplification of quantum fluctuations. Laboratory analogues.

·         Superstring and brane analogues


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