Flamsteed Astronomy Society

The Evolving Universe by Dr Roger Hanson - 20 June 2011

page 1 of 3

 This lecture was presented by Dr Roger Hanson who lives in New Zealand. Roger gained a 1st class honours degree in chemistry from Manchester University, and a PhD from Trinity Cambridge.  He subsequently became a chemical engineer for Big Oil, designing industrial chemical plants.  Roger asserts that there is a strong connection between chemical engineering and astrophysics, hence his extensive knowledge and propensity to muse about the Universe.

 He began with the Hubble Deep Field, an image of hundreds of galaxies, and made the point that the Voyager spacecraft which travels at 18 km per second would take a thousand million years to cross just one of the galaxies. The Universe is a big place.

 He reminded us that our special Universe has 19 separate fundamental physical constants – parameters of physics that we cannot derive from our theories or from other constants. The precise value of these constants determines key processes in the Universe like how quickly stars form and die. If any of the constants were different by even a tiny amount, the Universe would be a dramatically different place which almost certainly could not support life as we know it.  The probability that the values of these constants have arisen by chance is 1 in 10229 (10 to the power of 229, or 1 followed by 230 zeros -- please don’t ask how this one was worked-out!)  The Universe seems to have been fine-tuned specially for us.

 One way of rationalising this cosmic coincidence is by the ‘anthropic principle’ which can by summarised as “we’re here because we’re here ..”.  If the Universe was unable to support life as we know it, we wouldn’t be around to wonder why.   Taken in conjunction with the ‘multiverse’ hypothesis, we can surmise that all possible universes exist somewhen-where (in 11 dimensions), and here we are in the one that uniquely suits us!

 Roger’s ‘what if’ speculation about all this (and Roger is careful to say it is speculation) is that our Universe is one result of an evolutionary process in which generations of new universes are spawned by Black Holes.   This is where his insights from chemical engineering come in.  Here’s roughly how his thinking goes (but if this isn’t clear it’s because our brains hurt, not his fault.  Read Roger’s book!)  --

One: to make anything, the following are needed --

> Raw materials    

> Energy

> Machinery

> A set of instructions

> The right conditions

 These will give the desired product (eventually).

Two: The facts of life –

Life is a process in the same way.  Life depends on proteins.  The body has 10,000 proteins made of atoms and molecules all held together by the electromagnetic force -- the subject of chemistry.  Proteins are very fragile. The body is running a massive repair and maintenance programme as we lose 8 proteins a second. These are replaced.  The function of life is to extract food to make energy to replace proteins.

 There are two key instruction sets in the body --

> How carbon atoms line up and bond

> How DNA controls the formation and coupling of amino acids.


Dr Roger Hanson

[Pic Mike Dryland]

[Pics Mike Dryland]