5/3/16 Show feat. Cosmologist Colin Hill on the Universe as a Laboratory + Learning’s Physical Effect on the Brain

Featured image is of the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (of which Colin Hill is a collaborator) in the Atacama desert in Chile. Image credit: NASA

In this installment of These Vibes, cosmologist, musician and ex-WPRB DJ Colin Hill came in to the studio to chat with us about the cosmic microwave background (aka “the CMB”), using the early universe as a laboratory to probe fundamental physics, dark matter, and his Brooklyn-based band Memorial Gore.

colinhillColin walked us through his life as a theoretical astrophysicist that “lives close to the data,” and what that means. He explained how the Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect blurs the cosmic microwave background, and how that tells us about the matter distribution in the universe.

In part 2 of our interview we discussed what gravitational waves from the very early universe would do to the CMB: if theories are true, the gravitational waves would have imprinted a swirly polarization pattern in the radiation. Cosmologists are currently looking for this pattern (called “B-modes”), but there’s a big challenge. Dust – tiny particulates of carbon and silicon – in our galaxy can mimic this B-mode signal. 

The CMB! Credit: Planck HFI.
Behold! The cosmic microwave background. It was emitted just after the universe was one big plasma. Credit: Planck HFI telescope.

Furthermore, we discussed a bit about other experiments that complement the CMB, enriching our knowledge of our universe. An example is the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which works to map the stuff in our universe.

Want to learn more about the cosmic microwave background? Here’s a great explainer video from MinutePhysics:

In the last part of the interview, we primarily discuss Colin’s music. Memorial Gore released their new album New Golden Dawn earlier this year (below), and did a wonderful live set at WPRB a couple months ago. The great Jon Solomon lead the recording (Brian and I ran around and helped out, mostly learning from the master) and posted it on his site. Full recording here.

Later in the show, Brian jumped on the mic to answer a listener’s question: how much will angular_momentum_skaterthe melting of the polar ice caps affect the Earth’s rotation? Turns out to be a minuscule effect on the rotation of the Earth. But it’s not hard to imagine it could! Just as a figure skater will rotate more slowly with their arms stretched out than with them clutched to their chest, if the Earth’s mass is distributed more evenly across it’s surface rather than concentrated at the poles, the Earth should rotate more slowly. And indeed it will! But the effect is tiny and negligible to us.

Last, Brian discussed the effect of learning on our brains, based on the book, The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Process of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning, by James Zull. This book piqued our interest when Katerina Visnjic described it in our 4/5/2016 show. In Zull’s book, he explains how learning “physically changes the brain,” and if we understand how this happens, we can use it to our advantage to learn better. And, further, in utilizing these learning techniques in the classroom, we can teach better too. For example, in a great piece summarizing his book and the science behind it, Zull discusses

…the art of challenging the whole brain. Although the human brain is immensely complicated, we have known for some time that it carries out four basic functions: getting information (sensory cortex,) making meaning of information (back integrative cortex,) creating new ideas from these meanings,(front integrative cortex,) and acting on those ideas (motor cortex.) From this I propose that there are four pillars of human learning: gathering, analyzing, creating, and acting.

We’re both big science, and science education, nerds over here at TVR2C, so you can imagine we’re pretty in to The Art of Changing the Brain.


playlist 5-3-16



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