According to Philomena Bonis, the real reason why she hosted the Astronomy & Space Exploration Society (ASX) 8th Annual Expanding Canada’s Frontier Symposium, on Friday, January 28th, at the University of Toronto Convocation Hall was to show that “the passions, the dreams and the interests of ordinary people can turn a series of seemingly small steps into something extraordinary.”
Bonis is with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and spends most of her time thinking about and popularizing this sort of discussion so the symposium is a good fit for her.
But it’s also run by a knowledgeable group of up and coming experts who bring marketing savvy and social media expertise to a scientific discipline long dominated by the dull press releases and boring media advisories of an earlier era.
Since incorporating as a nonprofit in 2003, the community managed ASX (which operates out of the University of Toronto ) has grown into one of the largest space focused organizations in Canada with approximately 2300 members by building public events to educate, excite, and inspire students, professionals and the general public on astronomy and space.
The core focus for the organization has always been the January Expanding Canada’s Frontiers symposium and the lineup for their 8th annual event, titled “Unraveling the Universe,” which occurred last Friday, contained quite the variety of scientific luminaries.
Dr. Alexei Vladimir Filippenko, a professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley and a member of the National Academy of Sciences spoke on the topic of “Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe” which, to Filippenko at least, is about nothing less than the final fate of the entire universe.
“Will it collapse or continue to expand forever? We just don’t know” says Filippenko, although he thinks the key is something called “dark energy” which is often identified with Einstein’s cosmological constant, the work of astronomer Edwin Hubble and the observations made by the Hubble space telescope.
Dr. Gilbert Holder, an associate professor of physics at McGill University and the holder of the Canada Research Chair in Cosmological Astrophysics plus a scholar with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research‘s (CIfAR) Cosmology & Gravity Program followed up the first presentation with a discussion on “The Evolution of the Universe over Cosmic Time.”
Holder began at the Big Bang, then moved on to quantum fluctuations and how these fluctuations amplified to form the rich universe we have today. According to Holder, our present universe appears to be no longer forming new cosmic structures and this is also because of the “dark energy.”
For the third presentation, Dr. Michel Lefebvre, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Victoria discussed terrestrial tools to probe and measure the “dark energy” discussed in the first two presentations and also take a look at other cosmological mysteries.
Lefebvre’s presentation on “probing the secrets of the universe with the LHC and the ATLAS detector” focused on experiments being conducted at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland and how these experiments can assist other scientists such as Holder and Filippenko. Lefebvre founded the Canadian ATLAS collaboration which contributed to the construction of the ATLAS particle detector that currently study high energy proton-proton collisions in the LHC at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).
Other, shorter presentations, called “Startalks” were made by Dr. Eric Donovan from the University of Calgary (“Using the Aurora to Probe Space”), Dr. Jayanne English from the University of Manitoba (Cosmos versus Canvas: Tensions Between Art and Science in Astronomy Images”), Dr. Robin Kingsburgh from the Ontario College of Art and Design & York University (Opening the Universe: Teaching Astronomy to Art and Design Students”) and Farnaz Ghadaki with Laura Bradbury (“Astronomy Organizations: Beyond the Network”).
After the presentations, both the professional astronomers on stage and the amateurs in the audience retired up the hall to sample the buffet, kindly provided by the ASX, and carry on some of the more substantive discussions and outreach activities that these ASX events are noted for.
For ASX emcee Philomena Bonis and quite a few others, its a very rare opportunity to meet, greet, learn from and sometimes even disagree with renown experts in astronomy and space science.