Gathering of Luminaries: Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology Conference

December 18, 1992

Astrophysicists and cosmologists converge on Berkeley for Texas/PASCOS '92 conference

Berkeley seemed like the center of the universe when more than 750 of the world's leading scientists in the fields of particle astrophysics and cosmology gathered December 13-18 (1992) for the Texas/PASCOS '92 conference. This was a combination of two major international meetings -- the 16th Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics and the third Symposium on Particles, Strings, and Cosmology (PASCOS).

In recent years -- as the once widely disparate fields of particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology have drawn closer together -- the Texas and PASCOS conferences have become the places to be for scientists working on the very smallest and very largest aspects of nature-- everything from the nature of the elementary particles to the large-scale structure of the universe.

The 1992 joint conference, with LBL sharing host responsibilities with UC's Center for Particle Astrophysics, drew participants from all over the world, including such luminaries as British scientists Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, and many more.

A major topic of discussion at the meeting was the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite experiment by LBL's George Smoot and his co-workers (see LBL Research Review, Summer 1992) and the detection of the "seeds" of the structures of the universe. Several researchers reported new results supporting the discovery of anisotropy (ripples) in the cosmic microwave background radiation.

Other hot topics were the nature of black holes; attempts to reconcile gravity and quantum mechanics; the age of the universe, the formation of galaxies; dark matter; the role of time in the universe; and the future of particle physics.

In addition to the regular scientific talks, the conference featured two special events intended for the nonspecialist public: a talk on "The Future of the Universe" by Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time and one of the best- known scientists in the world; and "Cosmos and Culture: a Dialog" an informal discussion by a panel of cosmologists and theologians.

The panel included John Barrow, professor of astronomy at the University of Sussex, England, and the author of several books, including Theories of Everything; Paul Davies, professor of physics at the University of Adelaide, Australia, and author of God and the New Physics and other books; The Rev. William Stoeger, a Jesuit priest, Catholic theologian, and astronomer from the Vatican Observatory Group at the Steward Observatory in Tucson, Ariz.; Roger Penrose, professor of mathematics at Oxford, England, and author of The Emperor's New Mind; and Nancey Murphy, associate professor of Christian philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., and author of Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning.

Conference chairmen were Bernard Sadoulet, an LBL researcher, UC Berkeley professor of physics, and director of the Center for Particle Astrophysics, and Joseph Silk, a UC Berkeley professor of astronomy.