May 8, 1997
The classic big bang theory is great at describing what happened after the bang. Yet until recently, particle physicists and cosmologists were stuck on many questions that the big bang theory couldn’t answer, including: What made the big bang BANG in the first place? If matter can be neither created nor destroyed, how could so much matter arise from nothing at all? Why can we only see a minute part of the mega-universe?
In 1979, a young particle physicist named Alan Guth answered these questions and made front-page news with one of the greatest discoveries in modern cosmology: cosmic inflation. This is the compelling, first-hand account of Guth’s paradigm-breaking discovery of the origins of the universe; and it is a fascinating chronicle of his dramatic struggle to justify it.
From a young researcher who couldn’t land a permanent job to becoming a physics superstar, Guth’s story is part scientific detective story and part autobiography. Although many of his scientific peers immediately sought to disprove the inflation theory, Guth also drew the attention of such noted figures as Stephen Hawking and Andrei D. Linde, and spent his time researching and refining his ideas. It wasn’t until 1992, however, when the space probe COBE brought stunning confirmation of the validity of inflation, that Guth’s theory was widely regarded as one of the most important contributions to science during the twentieth century.
Guth’s startling theory states that in the billion-trillion-trillionth of a second before the big bang, there was a period of hyper-rapid “inflation” that got the big bang started. Inflation modifies our picture of only the first small fraction of a second in the history of the universe, and then it joins onto the standard big bang theory, preserving all of the successes of the older theory. But because inflation explains the bang itself, is a much richer theory than the older version of the big bang.
The Inflationary Universe is the passionate account of one leading scientist’s effort to look behind the cosmic veil and explain how the universe began.
Alan H. Guth is V. F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition to receiving many distinguished academic awards, Newsweek has called him one of “The 25 Top American Innovators,” and Science Digest has ranked him among the “100 Brightest Scientists Under 40.” he lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.