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Chicago Maps the Cosmos, 2007

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A Cosmology Short Course for Museum & Planetarium Staff
December 7 - 9, 2007

Chicago Maps the Cosmos, 2007

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A Cosmology Short Course for Museum & Planetarium Staff: Chicago Maps the Cosmos, 2007
December 7 - 9, 2007

The Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics & The Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics @ The University of Chicago

AUDIENCE: Museum & Planetarium Staff (Informal Science Educators)


  • Educate individuals who will inspire & educate others about cartography and cosmology
  • Extend the reach of Festival of Maps: Chicago to the edge of the universe, nationally and internationally
  • Introduce current astrophysical research into museums and planetaria, directly impacting tens of thousands of individuals



This three-day, intensive short course will highlight cartography on the grandest scales: mapping the cosmos. It will explore the ethereal science of cosmology in the concrete terms of the observed hierarchical structure of the universe - which we have only recently come to understand. Chicago Maps the Cosmos will explore our current understanding of the cosmos from the perspective of those who are at the forefront of investigating it, and it will provide participants with the tools they need to bring the excitement of discovery back to their home institutions. Chicago Maps the Cosmos will also encompass the broader themes of Festival of Maps: Chicago - cartography, discovery, exploration, inspiration and showcasing the local riches of the city of Chicago.

Application Deadline: July 1, 2007 (note: rolling admissions policy, applications will be reviewed beginning June 1, 2007).


Scott DodelsonJoshua A. FriemanMike GladdersRocky Kolb*
Andrey V. KravtsovRandy Landsberg*Clem PrykeMichael S. Turner

* Course Directors

Joshua A. Frieman

Michael S. Turner and Rocky Kolb

Andrey V. Kravtsov

Clem Pryke

Course Description

Chicago Maps the Cosmos will help participants incorporate cosmology into their museum/planetarium programming. This intensive three-day course will provide a solid background in the fundamentals of modern cosmology and updates on the most current and emerging research trends. The curriculum will explore the shape and structure of the universe, as we have recently come to understand it through cosmic mapping, and the theoretical underpinnings that link these observations to a coherent cosmological picture. The instructors will be leading astronomers, astrophysicists, & cosmologists from the University of Chicago who are making the discoveries that define our ongoing exploration of the universe. However, the focus of Chicago Maps the Cosmos will remain on helping to bring cosmology to the public in informal educational settings (museums & planetaria). The course format is intentionally designed to allow for extensive question and answer sessions and informal networking with researchers and fellow informal science educators. Additionally the course has been scheduled so that it is concurrent with the city-wide Festival of Maps.

Current cosmic mapping research is producing fundamental changes in our understanding of the physics of the early universe and how it evolved to its present state of complexity. Now is a particularly special time for astronomical mapping which has experienced an incredible progression from observations of individual objects, to 2D maps, to the present: 3D and hyper-dimensional maps, dynamical maps, maps made by using the universe to map itself, and maps of greater and greater scale and detail. Chicago Maps the Cosmos will explore these new frontiers beginning with the familiar and advancing to the increasingly abstract. The course will be roughly divided into three conceptual themes:

  • Mapping the Universe Today
  • How the Map Was Made (i.e., the forces that shaped the universe)
  • How Theory Maps to Observation

First we will examine the Universe as it is observed today. We will explore the myriads of ways that matter manifests itself and how it can be observed - this rich topic will form the core of the short course. We will delve into the physical structure of the universe and the tools used to create increasingly larger and more complex maps. The emphasis will be on Large Scale Structure, not how stars are grouped, but how galaxies and clusters of galaxies cluster. We will mine the data of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), literally the most ambitious map ever made spanning a quarter of the sky and hundreds of millions of objects. Additionally we will explore how distant light beacons including gamma ray bursts and quasars can be used to probe the intergalactic medium, which holds the vast majority of ordinary baryonic matter. Next, we will grapple with how it is possible to Map the Unseen e.g. Dark Matter, that odd stuff that does not interact directly with light, but which interacts gravitationally. We will study how the tools of strong and weak gravitational lensing, especially when combined with the statistics of larger surveys, provide a handle on this significant piece of the cosmic pie (e.g. 22% of the matter energy density). The course will then move to the more mysterious and the more distant/infant universe.

Dark Energy comprises over two thirds of the universal energy/matter budget, and yet it is essentially an unknown. We will grapple with the observational evidence for this vacuum energy and examine a multi-pronged effort spanning three continents that may unveil the nature (equation of state) of this mysterious counterintuitive force. Chicago Maps the Cosmos will study the cosmic microwave background (CMB) both as an exquisite map of the infant universe and as powerful probe of the more recent universe. We will explore the key experiments and observational evidence used to construct these maps, as well as the theory that allows us to extrapolate from the statistics of small fluctuations, a few parts in a hundred thousand, back billions of years to conditions of the early universe, to the geometry of the universe, and to the matter/energy balance of the universe. We will also learn how CMB mapping is being turned on its head, after forty years of intense scrutiny. Instead of probing the tiny fluctuations in the CMB, the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect exploits the incredible smoothness of the CMB and uses it as a perfect backlight to map the intervening cosmos. Here we will feature two Chicago based experiments the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich Array (SZA) and the South Pole Telescope (SPT) both of which exploit the SZ effect to map out super-massive clusters of galaxies throughout many different epochs. The SZ effect is independent of redshift and consequently SZ can be used to map out how galaxy clusters, the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe, are distributed over different time slices of the universe. By charting how these large building blocks evolve and are distributed over different epochs we can better understand how the universe evolved and forces involved.

How Theory Maps to Observations: Beyond the structure and hidden substructure (dark matter) we will delve deeper into the forces and theory of the early universe to better understand the implications and origins of the observed cosmic maps. Extremes and the expansion of the universe mean that roles do not always stay constant. In this context, we will examine gravity and its importance in the formation of structure from early epochs to the present. A focal point here will be large numerical simulations that model to growth and evolution of structure from early homogenous epochs to the complexity of the present day. The earliest epochs are also of great interest as the physics are thought to be "simpler" and better understood and because the impact of inflation, acoustic oscillations in the primordial plasma, and the decoupling of matter and radiation, etc. are born out to the present day observations. Although cosmologists deem the physics of the early universe "simpler", the concepts and conditions of this epoch are abstract and extreme.

Chicago Maps the Cosmos is designed with both the complex nature of modern cosmology and real needs of museum and planetarium staff in mind. This curriculum has been developed from the onset in collaboration with informal science educators, especially members of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA). If the success of past courses is an accurate indicator (see Impacts), Chicago Maps the Cosmos will provide you with a front row view of the excitement of discovery, sufficient background so that you will feel comfortable incorporating cosmology into your home institution; and tools, resources and expert advice to help you create effective new programming and exhibits.

Reading Suggestions

"Readings" = books, magazines, website, videos, podcasts, etc.








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Last update: November 5, 2007