Cosmos: ‘What do we know about it?’, ‘How do we know what we know about it?’ and ‘What do we not know about it?’

Last Wednesday Dr. Sunu Engineer, a doctorate in physics from IUCCA, came to MBIS to speak to DP students about the Cosmos. His talk came at a time when the DP 2 Physics students are studying Astrophysics as their Option. He began with three ‘simple’ questions about the Cosmos: ‘What do we know about it?’, ‘How do we know what we know about it?’ and ‘What do we not know about it?

For two lessons he had the undivided attention of the DP Physics students. The information he provided was cutting edge, including research published as soon as 8 days prior to the presentation. Aside from a few interjections by Mr. Heyworth on concepts students were unfamiliar with, Dr. Engineer delivered an introductory lecture on Astrophysics he would have otherwise given to university level students. He didn’t water down complexity and while some of it flew over the heads of students, many were able to follow along. His talk touched on all the major elements of Astrophysics ending with a quick calculation of the age of the universe and a mention of Einstein’s equations of general relativity.

Dr. Engineer’s passion and wealth of knowledge came through in his presentation. In true ‘IB/TOK’ spirit he also made students aware of the limitations of knowledge in Astrophysics. He recalled joking with his supervisor when he submitted his dissertation –“should I call this science fiction or science fact?”. Furthermore, he discussed the incomprehensible scale of the universe. The scale of time, distance, size, density and luminosity, as much as we try to put into units that make sense they are inherently counter-intuitive. It is quite a marvel that humans are able to contemplate, much less understand it, the way we do. Overall, it was a presentation that left many in a sense of wonderment with their heads in the stars. Students enjoyed it thoroughly and everyone was able to get something out of it. Hopefully Dr. Engineer will come back soon to speak again!

Arman Jindal

DP2 Physics Student