PM’s science prize for Wyithe

Oct 12, 2011

How did the Universe light up—filling a billion years of cosmic history


The Universe was born in a hot Big Bang. But after 300,000 years of expansion it became a cold dark place—no galaxies, no stars, no light. A billion years later nuclear fusion lit up the Universe as hydrogen atoms clumped to form stars and galaxies.

We can still detect the heat of the Big Bang. And our best telescopes can see the light of the early galaxies. But how did the first stars and galaxies form? What triggered the cosmic dawn? What happened during the Universe’s billion-year Dark Age?

This is one of the great unknown eras of cosmic history—particularly because there is no light nor other forms of high energy radiation to analyse. Stuart Wyithe’s theories may lead to some answers.

The ideas that this young theoretical physicist is generating on pen, paper and desktop computer will guide the questions to be asked by a new multi-billion-dollar generation of telescopes including the Square Kilometre Array, the James Webb Space Telescope, and the Giant Magellan Telescope.

For his work on the physics of the formation of the Universe, Professor Stuart Wyithe receives this year’s Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.