George Mitchell’s keen interest in physics and astronomy first attracted Stephen Hawking’s attention during a meeting to discuss the theoretical physicist and cosmologist’s insights into the nature of the Universe. The two later agreed to spearhead a campaign to establish the Mitchell Institute. Today, the Institute—made up of the Astronomy, High-Energy Theory, and High-Energy Experimental groups of the Physics Department at Texas A&M University—explores a roller coaster ride through space and time with the end goal of advancing knowledge and engaging one’s imagination in fundamental physics and astronomy.
The Institute plays a unique role in understanding the interconnection between particle physics and cosmology, one of a select number of institutes in the world where theoretical physicists, experimental physicists, and astronomers work together to solve complex challenges in understanding the Universe—past, present, and future. This innovative interdisciplinary approach integrates world-class researchers, distinguished visiting scientists, state-of-the-art facilities, the imaginative Cambridge Collaboration and Cook’s Branch Conservancy workshops, pioneering outreach initiatives, the Giant Magellan Telescope Consortium, and a number of eminent international collaborations—all in pursuit of unlocking the profound mysteries of the Universe.
Interconnection of Particle Physics and Cosmology
It’s been said that physics is essentially a cultural activity—driven by a need to know—a vision that the human brain can ‘solve’ or put into rational order the physical problems of our own existence, starting with the creation of the Universe and predicting its evolution to the infinite future. Particle physics is the study of the most primordial, unchanging, and abiding forms of matter; as well as the rules that govern the forces of matter, energy, space, and time that cause them to interact and combine to make more complex entities. Cosmology studies the past present and the future of the Universe.
A key connection between particle physics and cosmology arises from the latest astrophysical observations indicating that atoms only account for 4% of the present energy budget of the Universe, while dark matter contributes 23% and the remaining 73% is called dark energy. This connection is also necessary to understand the observed rapid expansion of the early Universe known as inflation. The Mitchell Institute understands the importance of investigating the interconnection of particle physics and cosmology, a construct that intersects string theory, quantum gravity, phenomenology, experiments, and cosmology. The Institute’s team of particle theorists, experimentalists, cosmologists, and observational astronomers are poised to make unprecedented contributions in the theoretical pursuits utilizing complex models and intricate experiments to better understand the puzzling life cycle of the Universe.