Dr. Richard Watkins: The Big Bang and Beyond — A Beginner's Guide to the Universe

What does the Universe look like and what is our place in it? How is it evolving and what did it look like in the distant past? What will it be like in the future?

This talk will introduce the ideas behind the standard Cosmological model and the observational evidence on which it rests. After describing the Universe's characteristics and what it means that it is expanding, Dr Watkins will discuss the observational evidence that it is currently occupied primarily by Dark Matter and Dark Energy and what this implies about its future.

Dr. Watkins' research interests include Astrophysics, Cosmology, and Particle Physics. His current research is focused on both nearby stars and on distant galaxies.

In the solar neighborhood, he and his undergraduate research students study short-period variable stars using a newly constructed research observatory located at nearby Zena Farm. These stars pulsate in size, and hence brightness, over periods as short as a few hours. By taking sequential images of these stars, students can construct a "light curve" for a star, which plots its brightness over time. Further analysis of this light curve yields information about the dynamics of the star's pulsation, which in turn can help us understand how all stars work.

Dr. Watkins is a cosmologist who studies the flow of galaxies though the Universe. Basically, galaxies are pulled by gravity into regions where matter is concentrated and out of regions that are relatively empty. By studying these motions one can learn how much matter the Universe contains, how it is distributed, and how this distribution is changing in time. This information can, in turn, be used to test models of how the Universe has evolved, thus illuminating such issues as dark matter and dark energy.

He received his PhD in Physics from UC Santa Barbara in 1989, and taught at Dartmouth College and Reed College before joining the faculty at Willamette University in 1999.