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With the literature teacher he talked about the Greeks and made him think. He argued about physics with the mathematics because the physics “were bad.” And his mother, a social educator, gifted him with motivation for science. With her, he spent the “difficult” moment of explaining that, in the end, he was not going to study engineering, but instead chose to do the Bachelor of Physics at the Faculty of Sciences. At that time, his mother worked in a home of the former Iname and someone there loaned him a yearbook that made him change his election. They lived in a boarding house and he had two jobs; one was handing out credit card statements.
This note began with an anecdote of his passage through the Héctor Miranda high school to which he returns from time to time to give talks to the students. Rafael Porto told it from DESY or German Electron Synchrotron, the largest German research center in particle physics, where today he leads a team that deals, fundamentally, with unraveling the secrets of the gravitational waves. He is also the only Uruguayan to have received a two million euro grant from the European Research Council and the Buchalter Cosmology Prize.
On both occasions he was recognized for having produced advances in the understanding of the universe.
“I don’t understand people. The math seems so clear to me that I’d rather study this than mess with people. People are much more complicated ”, he laughed in dialogue with El País.
Porto speaks fluently when asked about him quantum universe. He Premio Buchalter 2020 it was awarded for a pioneering work in conjunction with Canadian Daniel Green who proposes an experimental way to determine the quantum origin of large-scale structure in the cosmos. A work that he described as typical of “Sherlock Holmes.”
About 13.8 billion years ago, before the great explosion (known as the big bang) that produced the matter that now fills the universe, cosmologists believe that it went through an extremely rapid expansion phase that is called “inflation.” One of the predictions of this theory is that the correlations between the positions of all galaxies on the largest imaginable scales were established by events that took place at the smallest possible level of measurement: the quantum world.
Quantum physics says that pairs (or more) particles can be created spontaneously from a vacuum. However, during inflation, these “virtual” particles would have separated very quickly before they could be annihilated and thus could have led to fluctuations in density of matter in the universe, which then gave rise to objects that we see today. He quantum vacuum it is a manifestation of the quantum fields that fill the universe and it is not empty: within it there are random fluctuations, that is to say, virtual particles constantly being created and annihilated.
The central idea of the inflationary mechanism is that quantum fluctuations in a vacuum they were “catapulted” by the exponential expansion of the universe and have remained after inflation ended, being responsible for fluctuations in density in different regions of the universe. This then guided the formation of galaxies.
But how to confirm this if only macroscopic results can be seen in current measurements? As we can only observe the galaxies already formed, their origins must be reconstructed without having direct access to the primordial moments of the universe.
Porto and Green’s proposal is that certain spatial correlations between the location of galaxy clusters can give scientists enough information to decipher their origins. But such correlations could also originate from classical random density disturbances in the early cosmos. For example, through the copious production of (“real”) particles, forming a state that can be described in terms of classical statistical theories. Both models are compatible with current observations.
But proving this directly is an almost impossible task. So Porto proposed a different test: Instead of looking for two-point correlations between two galaxy clusters, he suggested looking between three. If classical statistics are the culprit, Porto and Green showed that certain special configurations, such as “very obtuse” triangles, should be as (or more important) than the “equilateral” cases. The lack of this particular signal would be evidence that classical processes were not responsible. “Since we cannot directly prove that the quantum vacuum was responsible for the creation of structure in the cosmos, we propose to rule out all other options. When the impossible is discarded, what remains, even if it is impossible, is the only valid solution ”, he explained.
This would confirm or disprove one of the most fascinating ideas about what scientists believe happened at the beginning of the universe.
Porto’s work has thus made it possible to verify something that at first seemed like science fiction: the quantum origin of the universe.
Help for science.
Porto used the two million euros to strengthen his team at DESY and wants to bring Uruguayans to do internships. Before arriving in Germany, this young man was in the United States and Brazil and knows first-hand how difficult it is live from science in Uruguay. “There is no real initiative from any government,” he criticized. He referred to the decrease in funding for research as well as the lack of retention and return programs for scientists. “The financing in South America is not comparable to the European one. It is almost impossible to return to Uruguay because there are few job and financing options, “he said.
Still, he acknowledged that the country is a rare specimen because, despite the obstacles, it has brilliant minds spread all over the world. “Julio Fernández and Rafael Radi are members of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. That is unbelievable and people don’t know it. In what head does it fit if we are three million? “