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Distinguished award

Max Planck Medal for LMU physicist

München, 11/28/2014

Viatcheslav Mukhanov models the physical processes that occurred in the first instances after the Big Bang. The LMU physicist has now been awarded the German Physics Association’s Max Planck Medal for his contributions to quantum cosmology.

Professor Viatcheslav Mukhanov (Foto: LMU)

What exactly went on when our Universe came into existence? How could the infant Universe have undergone the brief but extraordinarily rapid phase of expansion postulated by the cosmic inflation model? And how was it possible for stars, planets and galaxies to form at all? These are the questions that Viatcheslav Mukhanov tries to answer with the help of mathematical physics. The German Physics Association (Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft, DPG) has now announced its decision to award the Max Planck Medal, the DPG‘s highest distinction for theoretical physics, to Mukhanov, Professor of Physics at LMU and an acknowledged expert in the field of Theoretical Quantum Cosmology. According to a statement issued by the DPG, the Selection Committee chose to honor Mukhanov in recognition of his “fundamental contributions to cosmology, in particular those bearing on the evolution of large-scale structure on the basis of quantum fluctuations in the early Universe.”

Viatcheslav Mukhanov’s work has explored the idea that quantum fluctuations - submicroscopic fluctuations in physical states - in the instant immediately after the Big Bang subsequently gave rise to macroscopic variations in density within the expanding cosmos, which ultimately formed the seeds of the large-scale structures we now observe. In other words, these minuscule early fluctuations can explain the overall distribution of matter, and the development of stars, planets and galaxies, characteristic of the cosmos we see today. Mukhanov’s calculations have given us a precise picture of the magnitude and the distribution (the “spectrum”) of these perturbations. And for the LMU physicist, the notion that energy quanta must have been subject to such fluctuations in the early Universe is a clear consequence of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which states that it is (in principle!) impossible to simultaneously determine exactly where a quantum particle is located and precisely how it is moving at any given moment.