Research @ KICP
The concept of an early epoch of accelerated expansion, known as inflation, was introduced to resolve a number of inconsistencies in the standard cosmological model. It was quickly realized that, not only did inflation remove these inconsistencies, but, quantum fluctuations during the inflationary era could directly produce the density fluctuations necessary to seed all cosmological structure observed today. This model has proven so successful that inflation stands as one of the central pillars of the current standard cosmological model, ΛCDM. With this success comes greater scrutiny and the quest for greater understanding. The Inflation MA at the KICP seeks to explore all aspects of the inflationary paradigm by studying the details and implications of theoretical models and by searching for experimental and observational signatures of inflation to better understand this era of the very early Universe.
The most tantalizing prediction of many inflationary models is that, along with the scalar perturbations observed as density fluctuations, primordial gravitational waves (or tensor perturbations) are produced and are potentially detectable. These waves would leave an imprint on the polarization of the CMB (producing so-called B-modes). Technological innovations in CMB observations over the last decade have brought us to the point where many of the simplest models are being tested. The amplitude of the gravitational waves (parameterized by the scalar-to-tensor-ratio, r) is directly related to the energy scale of inflation. Knowledge of this scale is vital for an understanding of the new physics, which drives inflation. With the recent announcement by the BICEP2 collaboration of the discovery of B-modes in the microwave sky, the activities of the Inflation MA have focused on efforts to understand the measured signal and determine what fraction of it can be attributed to the inflationary era and what fraction to galactic dust.
Beyond the B-modes, observations of both the CMB and large-scale-structure will measure important characteristics of the primordial perturbations. In particular, the simplest inflationary models predict a Gaussian distribution of perturbations, so the detection of primordial non-Gaussianity would fundamentally change our picture of the early Universe.
The goal of the Inflation MA is to test inflation and reveal the underlying physic by searching for the B-mode polarization signature and characterizing the primordial density perturbations. To achieve this goal, the MA is pursuing the following activities:
The KICP is leading a forefront CMB experiment searching for inflationary B-mode polarization. SPTpol is a powerful new polarization-sensitive bolometric detector deployed on the 10-meter South Pole Telescope. SPTpol was deployed in November 2011 and is currently taking data. It promises to reach sensitivity levels far lower than previously possible. Additionally, in concert with the Detector Development MA, a vigorous development program is being undertaking to develop the next generation of polarization sensitive detectors. These detectors, named SPT-3G, will be deployed during the 2016-17 austral Summer.
CMB Polarization Hub
The KICP has formed a CMB Polarization Hub to coordinate a community-wide, multi-experiment effort to attack the systematics of CMB polarization experiments and combine different sets of these measurements. Additionally, this hub is spearheading efforts to build consensus in the CMB community on building the next generation (dubbed S4) CMB experiment.
The Non-Gaussianity Hub was formed. This Hub brought together researchers from around the country and world to work on all aspects of primordial non-Gaussianity from the latest theoretical developments to measurements from the Dark Energy Survey. In light of the results on non-Gaussianity from the Planck satellite and the exciting detection of B-modes by BICEP2, this hub has been reconfigured as the Inflation Hub. Similar to the Dark Matter Hub, this hub will bring together experts on all aspects of inflation to study the phenomenon.