From 1993 to 2007, the Institute for Gravitational Physics and Geometry at Penn State played a leading role at the interface of physics, mathematics and astronomy. The Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos, inaugurated in August 2007, builds on these strong foundations by making use of the unique strengths in particle astrophysics that Penn State now enjoys. From quantum cosmology to new observational windows, we seek greater understanding of the physical universe and its extreme events.
The Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos (IGC) is dedicated to fostering the highest quality education and research in cosmology, general relativity, gravitational wave astronomy, particle astrophysics, quantum gravity and string theory, focusing on the highest energy phenomena and fundamental issues in the Science of the Cosmos. At Penn State it has synergistic interactions with the Schreyer Honors College, the College of Information Science and Technology, the World University Network and four departments in the Eberly College of Science.
Abhay Ashtekar, holder of the Eberly Chair in Physics serves as the IGC Director and Doug Cowen, Professor of Physics, as the Associate Director. The Institute integrates the theoretical and observational research carried out in its three centers: the Center for Fundamental Theory, headed by Murat Gunaydin, Professor of Physics; the Center for Theoretical and Observational Cosmology, headed by Don Schneider, Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics; and the Center for Particle and Gravitational Astrophysics by Peter Mészáros, the Eberly Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Chief Theorist for the Swift GRBE mission.
Center for Fundamental Theory: Thanks in large part to Einstein's revolutionary ideas, our view of the cosmos changed dramatically in the 20th century. The primary goal of this Center is to develop even better theories to take us beyond Einstein. The focus of research is on mathematical and computational general relativity, quantum gravity and string theory. Loop quantum gravity, a leading approach to the unification of general relativity and quantum physics was developed in large part at Penn State. Now the Center enjoys strength also in string theory and non-commutative geometry. Penn State is the only US institution in which these three fundamental areas are being developed. Thanks to the new synergy, Penn State researchers have already begun to change the 20th century paradigm on such basic issues as the nature of the big bang and of black holes. Because of its exceptional combination of strengths and the resulting cross fertilization of ideas, the Center is well-placed to make deep and lasting contributions.
Center for Theoretical and Observational Cosmology: The goal of the Cosmology Center is to enhance our understanding of the large scale structure of the universe using multi-wavelength surveys, computer simulations and fundamental theories, and by confronting theoretical paradigms with observations. On the observational front, our faculty are prominent members of a number of international collaborations, including the Chandra X-ray observatory, the Swift Gamma Ray Explorer Mission, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment, and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Their research also uses other facilities such as the Hubble space telescope and the XMM-Newton mission and they are leaders in some of the high profile proposed missions such as the Joint Astrophysics Nascent Universe Satellite. These multi-wavelength observations enable us to address some of the central questions in cosmology, such as the nature of dark energy and validity of general relativity at very large scales, the expansion history of early universe, and the formation and growth of super-massive black holes.
Center for Particle and Gravitational Astrophysics: Almost everything we know about the cosmos has come to us in the form of electromagnetic waves. Particle Astrophysics provides brand new windows to the cosmos. Penn State faculty are prominent participants in three novel initiatives: the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory located in Argentina, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the south pole and the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Explorer satellite and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatories in the U.S. LIGO and Auger have already started making major discoveries and IceCube has completed its construction. Penn State is the only U.S. institution participating in both of these premier ground-based projects. Gamma ray bursts are especially violent supernova explosions which spew out, in a few blinding seconds, as much energy as a thousand suns do in their entire life times. Swift, with its mission control center at Penn State, has been providing the best observations of these explosions, making Penn State a dominant player in this exciting area. These bursts and other energetic cosmic events can also be studied using cosmic rays, neutrinos and gravitational waves. Thus, there is now exceptional synergy that places Penn State in a unique position to conduct a bold, multi-pronged approach to high energy astrophysics. The potential for major discoveries is enormous. Details on our new initiative to exploit this potential, AMON, can be found at http://amon.gravity.psu.edu.
Faculty in the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos have trained and mentored a large number of undergraduate and graduate students and well over a hundred post-docs in emerging disciplines, with special attention to women and under-represented minorities. They have also been involved in significant outreach efforts, communicating the excitement of their frontier research to other scientists and to the general public through public lectures, and semi- popular articles. Their research has been featured in the popular press as well as television and radio programs. Two of the recent semi-popular books of the Institute faculty were selections of major book clubs. IGC members continue this tradition by participating vigorously in all these activities. For details see http://igc.psu.edu/outreach/index.shtml.