Unravelling the Big Bang: Sebastian Bramberger receives Carl Ramsauer Prize

The AEI scientist is honored for his doctoral thesis

September 14, 2020

With the award, the Physical Society of Berlin honors Dr. Bramberger's outstanding dissertation entitled “Cosmological Singularity Resolution – Classical and Quantum Approaches”. The 1,500 Euro prize will be awarded to him on November 18, 2020 in the Magnus-Haus in Berlin.

“I am very pleased about this recognition which acknowledges my research work,” says Sebastian Bramberger, who completed his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute; AEI) in Potsdam. “From the very beginning, I was fascinated by theoretical cosmology because it approaches philosophical questions by mathematical means. I was particularly interested in the role of quantum mechanics in the formation of the Universe, and here I had the privilege of working with excellent researchers.”

Bramberger's doctoral thesis deals with what is probably the greatest mystery in cosmology – the Big Bang. To investigate the origin of the universe, scientists have to apply two so far incompatible theories simultaneously: Quantum theory and Einstein's general theory of relativity. This is because, according to common belief, the entire Universe was initially a tiny point from which matter, space, and time were created during the Big Bang when the Universe began to expand. Quantum mechanics describes the behavior of matter at tiny distances, but the theory of relativity describes the behavior of huge masses. The two theories are incompatible, a “singularity” occurs and the theory breaks down.

“It is not clear how to overcome this singularity. It is often assumed that radically new physics will be necessary in order to make progress in this field,” says Dr. Jean-Luc Lehners, in whose Theoretical Cosmology group Bramberger wrote his thesis. “Sebastian Bramberger, on the other hand, presents various approaches that make do with the smallest possible changes to already known physics and yet have the potential to explain the Big Bang.”

“Mr. Bramberger has achieved several remarkable results,” explains Prof. Hermann Nicolai, Director Emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, who also supervised Bramberger. “He has found an exact mathematical solution to Einstein's theory of relativity, which shows how the Universe can contract to a minimum and then expand again under the influence of dark energy.” Bramberger also reformulated the phenomenon of quantum tunneling. He discovered how quantum leaps can be described mathematically more continuously. These methods make it possible to find new solutions in which the Universe tunnels around the Big Bang.

Bramberger also examined the “eternal inflation theory”, a still puzzling description of the early universe, according to which new universes are constantly forming, and described it mathematically in more detail. In a next step, he hopes to describe the eternal inflation theory in a completely quantum mechanical manner for the first time.

Sebastian Bramberger (born in 1991) studied physics and mathematics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 2015. He then joined the AEI, where he completed his doctorate in 2019 in the research group “Theoretical Cosmology” and the department “Quantum Gravity and Unified Theories”. His thesis was funded by the German Academic Scholarship Foundation. Since the completion of his PhD, he has been researching as a postdoctoral fellow at the AEI.

The Carl Ramsauer Prize is awarded in honor of the experimental physicist Carl Ramsauer (1879-1955) by the Physical Society of Berlin. Since 2002, four outstanding doctoral theses each year in physics and related fields at Berlin universities and the University of Potsdam have been honored.

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