Quantum Field Theory for Cosmology (PHYS785/AMATH872)

Collection Number C24003
Collection Type Course

This course introduces quantum field theory from scratch and then develops the theory of the quantum fluctuations of fields and particles. We will focus, in particular, on how quantum fields are affected by curvature and by spacetime horizons. This will lead us to the Unruh effect, Hawking radiation and to inflationary cosmology. Inflationary cosmology, which we will study in detail, is part of the current standard model of cosmology which holds that all structure in the universe - such as the distribution of galaxies - originated in tiny quantum fluctuations of a scalar field and of space-time itself. For intuition, consider that quantum field fluctuations of significant amplitude normally occur only at very small length scales. Close to the big bang, during a brief initial period of nearly exponentially fast expansion (inflation), such small-wavelength but large-amplitude quantum fluctuations were stretched out to cosmological wavelengths. In this way, quantum fluctuations are thought to have seeded the observed inhomogeneities in the cosmic microwave background - which in turn seeded the condensation of hydrogen into galaxies and stars, all closely matching the increasingly accurate astronomical observations over recent years. The prerequisites for this course are a solid understanding of quantum theory and some basic knowledge of general relativity, such as FRW spacetimes.