• May 20 2014

    NITheP WITS node seminar: Dr. H. Cynthia Chiang (University of Kwa-Zulu Natal)

    Abstract: The cosmic microwave background (CMB) is one of the most powerful tools for cosmology, encoding a wealth of information about the universe's history and structure. In particular, precision CMB polarimetry has long held the promise of revealing the physics of Inflation through a minuscule "B-mode" imprint that is imparted by primordial gravitational waves. The BICEP2 collaboration recently announced a first detection of this Inflationary signature in CMB polarisation, marking the end of an experimental chase that has lasted well over a decade. I will review the theory of CMB polarisation and discuss the significance and implications of the BICEP2 result, which can be interpreted as an observational window into energy scales that are typical of Grand Unification. I will also discuss the important next step of independent experimental confirmation and will describe a new instrument, SPIDER, that will characterise the Inflationary B-mode signal with unprecedented sensitivity and fidelity. SPIDER is a balloon-borne telescope that will launch from McMurdo Station, Antarctica in December 2014, and I will discuss the status of the instrument and projections for its performance.