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 Center for Theoretical and Observational Cosmology (CTOC) works to understand the fundamental constituents and dynamical laws at work in the universe. Specific questions include the nature of black holes, dark matter, and dark energy, as well as the role and potential form of quantum effects in these phenomena. Since these and related questions have remained open for some time, answering them may require new fundamental theories that supersede the current framework of general relativity, quantum mechanics, and quantum field theory as we know them today. The Center for Fundamental Theory is unique in the variety of perspectives it brings together. One primary focus of the CFT is the formulation of concrete descriptions of quantum gravity. Another is the mathematical and structural forms of predictions made by quantum field theory, and the tools used to make such predictions in general. Related to these is an understanding of quantum systems and quantum information in non-trivial spacetimes. These studies often involve novel computational and mathematical challenges. Due to the universality of mathematical formulations, solutions can sometimes prove useful in other areas of physics and science. Guiding and testing new fundamental theories requires data—both observational and theoretical. Members of the Center interact with colleagues in the CTOC and CMA to understand how observational data should inform the pursuit of many fundamental questions.
Center for Multimessenger 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.