Distinguished Speaker Series: Insights from Dr Katie Mack
Last month, we were pleased to welcome Dr Katie Mack, theoretical astrophysicist and author of the best-selling book, The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), as the latest speaker in our Distinguished Speaker Series event.
Dr Mack’s talk – From the Big Bang to the End of Time – focused on her research into cosmology and how technology makes tracing the history of the universe, and predicting its end, possible. While we don’t specialise in cosmology at G-Research, the use of technology to predict the future is something we do focus on and Matt Hope, Senior Engineer at G-Research, highlights exactly what he took away from the event.
Where it began
I’ve been extremely interested in space for a long time. Knowing I was not the right stuff to be an astronaut I was more interested in how looking at the universe around us was enabled by better technology.
I remember my mind being blown on discovering that through the cosmic background radiation we could see back almost to the start of the universe itself. To then discover that from such relatively small amounts of data (there’s just one little earth in a big observable universe), coupled with vast quantities of data from things like the Large Hadron Collider and colliders before it, we could make such incredible predictions/models of how our universe evolved, blew my mind even more.
I haven’t got the maths or physics knowledge to be able to follow the literature in this space, so I was very excited to hear that Dr Katie Mack was the next speaker in the G-Research Distinguished Speaker Series.
Dr Mack is an extraordinary communicator, with the ability to make incredibly complex and mind-blowing concepts accessible. That meant there was an outside chance that I’d understand (at least some) of her hour-long talk on the entirety of the observable universe.
The talk did not disappoint as Dr Mack gave us a brilliant tour of cosmic history, providing interesting insight into her work and the story of the universe.
One particularly helpful analogy focused on a painting. The point here was that by continuing to zoom into a painting of great dynamic range, you’ll eventually reach a point where it’s drab and largely undifferentiated. Our observable universe is pretty enough, so imagine what you could perceive if you could see the whole painting at once – it’s sadly not (currently) possible but it’s fun to dream!
Where it’s going
Dr Mack closed appropriately by covering the various likely end states of our universe – thankfully the timelines for all scenarios (bar one) are quite far away! I also got to ask her about the theoretical basis for something far more powerful than us being able to influence one end state, by triggering a true vacuum state, which would spread at the speed of light, engulfing and rendering not just life, but physics itself inimical to the existence of almost everything we know.
The current answer is: “Not likely, but I’m still thinking about it”, which is reassuring – I like knowing that much smarter people than me are looking into things that interest me, especially when they can share their knowledge in ways I can understand.
Much of my own work at G-Research involves enabling extremely smart and curious people to sift through petabytes of data to better understand and predict the future of financial markets. Being open to new ideas and techniques, expanding our horizons so we try to see all we possibly can, benefits my work but it’s also a trait of humanity I hope will keep us all interested and engaged for eons to come (well, until that true vacuum comes along).
If you’re interested in attending future Distinguished Speaker Series events, register your details.