The Expanding Universe (of Cosmology Centers)

The past couple months I’ve seen announcements of the founding of two new cosmology centers at US universities, and I realized that there has been quite a lot of this going on over the past few years here in the US. Going back 5 years or so, I count at least a dozen:

Texas Cosmology Center, Austin (March 2009)

Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania (January 2009)

Bruce and Astrid McWilliams Center for Cosmology, Carnegie Mellon (May 2008)

Astrophysics and Cosmology Center, Los Alamos (January 2008)

Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics (December 2007)

Center for Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, Ohio State (October 2007)

Beyond Center, Arizona State (September 2006)

Moore Center for Theoretical Cosmology and Physics, Caltech (April 2006)

Center for Cosmology at UC Irvine (June 2005)

Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, Chicago (March 2004)

Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, SLAC (October 2003)

Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics, Case Western (October 2003)

The job market being what it is, if you’re a string theorist you better be an incredible genius (and lucky) to find employment. On the other hand, if you’re a cosmologist, well, it doesn’t look that hard…

Update: A commenter points to one more:

Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos, Penn State (August 2007)

This one replaced a previous “Institute for Gravitational Physics and Geometry”, part of a trend in physics: cosmology hot, geometry not.

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16 Responses to The Expanding Universe (of Cosmology Centers)

  1. rrtucci says:

    Jesus! how many cosmologists does the US need!

  2. Aki says:

    Has anybody heard of a Finnish professor Kari Enqvist? He seems to be a true string believer and famous in the circles or at least they say so on this page (see the link, sorry it’s in Finnish). The string theory research is funded by Academy of Finland, so live long string theory con artism. ;-(—2013/Teoreettisen-fysiikan-tutkimuksen-suomalainen-huippuyksikko/

  3. chickenbreeder says:

    I don’t believe there are that many jobs available for cosmologists, either. The phenomenon (of growth in numbers of cosmology centers) simply reflects the trend that U.S. universities are now run by career administrators and buraeucrats. I am positive physicists in those universities didn’t initiate the establishment of cosmo centers. Administrators and bureaucrats, on the other hand, have nothing else to do so they constantly reorganize their universities as a way to pretend to be relevant. Since they don’t have any professional skill all they rely on is perceived fades and buzz. So, if X University has a cosmology center we want one, too. Cosmology is actually a small thing if you count how many schools and centers of “sustainability” have been created in the last 5 years. I bet it numbers at 100s, even though no one knows what sustainability really means.

  4. AcademicLurker says:

    What chickenbreeder said.

    At my own university, there seems to be constant pressure to move toward a center based organizational model and away from a traditional department based one.

    One of the reasons, I suspect, is that the faculty have less and the administration more power in such an arrangement.

  5. anon says:

    The grass always looks greener on the other side!

  6. Shantanu says:

    Peter you missed some more 🙂
    Institute for Gravitation and Cosmos Penn State (2007)
    Tufts Institute for Cosmology (this one has been in existence for almost 20 years)
    I am sure there are many more

  7. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Shantanu,

    I did miss Penn State, will add it. Pre-2003, there are a small number of others I didn’t try and list, including Tufts, NYU, and Columbia’s ISCAP.


    These centers are typically not just re-shufflings of existing positions, but involve new money and positions. Notice that a bunch of them have someone’s name on them, and it’s not the name of a physicist… That’s one source of the new money, another is “seed money” from universities. A typical way these centers get funded is by the university agreeing to put up some number of millions of dollars to hire a few people and get the thing going, with the idea that after a while it will be successful enough to attract grants that will fund it for the future. From the university’s point of view, putting money into such a center is an investment (or a bet…) that they hope will in later years pay off in new outside funding for the university. I don’t believe the impetus behind these things is just from administrators.

  8. Shantanu says:

    There is also another center at
    Georgia Tech (although not called a “cosmology”) which opened last Fall, with emphasis on gravitational waves and particle astrophysics (which for all practical purposes can considered
    be cosmology)

  9. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Shantanu, but that one seems somewhat different. In this day and age, going on about high energy particles and labelling what one does “relativistic astrophysics” seems very retro.

  10. Chris W. says:

    Are they all getting funding from the Templeton Foundation? 🙂

  11. The Real Deal says:

    Not to be outdone, Perimeter not only expanding its cosmology program but erecting a brand new 55,000 sq ft building soon. One needs appropriately fancy facility to accommodate none other than Stephen Hawking. Who else can claim Hawking on staff? The writings on the wall – strings is out, cosmology is in. And money trumps everything.

  12. Re “a bunch of them have someone’s name on them, and it’s not the name of a physicist…”
    I’m glad you said that, I was getting worried at all these important names in cosmology that I’ve never even heard of!

    More seriously, there is a point that has not been mentioned – cosmology has truly come of age in the last decades and the convergence of cosmology and particle physics is a relatively late development (when I was a student, cosmology was still an ‘out-there’ branch of physics). IN this regard, cosmology institutes might be a good thing for particle physics, if the atter is done there – it’sprobably easier to convince uninformed skeptics to fund institutes that study the ‘universe’ as opposed to the ‘atom’ – while maintaining particle research!

  13. Shantanu says:

    Peter, in this age particle astrophysics is really intertwined with cosmology
    and neutrino/gamma ray telescopes can tell you about nature of dark matter.
    With grav. waves also, a whole lot of cosmology can be done. A few other similar centers whose names are not “cosmology” (in recent years) which have come up are Center for Particle Astrophysics (Fermilab) (and many of its members are
    involved in cosmology). Also MIT’s center for space research was renamed to
    Kavli Institute of astrophysics and space research with main emphasis on
    determining nature of dark matter and energy.

  14. Mike says:

    Has anybody actually detected gravity waves yet? The last I heard LIGO was still looking and not seeing the waves from GRBs.

  15. Thomas D says:

    At current sensitivity LIGO expects to see signals from things like –

    SN1987a – ie any SN at comparable distance;
    Neutron star and black hole binary mergers up to some number of (M)pc;
    GRBs above some threshold on energy release over distance.

    The fact that no signals arrived is not really a surprise as the number of such events per year in our vicinity is not large. We may be lucky tomorrow with another supernova. But basically the detector is performing as expected.

    Future experimental sensitivity is expected to be one (soon) or two (not soon) orders of magnitude better. Since detectability goes with 1/distance, the expected number of events goes up roughly with the inverse cube of the sensitivity. Just wait a few years.

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