Alan Guth is the physicist who proposed the inflation theory in 1979.
On Monday, Dr. Guth’s starship came in. Radio astronomers reported that they had seen the beginning of the Big Bang, and that his hypothesis, known undramatically as inflation, looked right.
Reaching back across 13.8 billion years to the first sliver of cosmic time with telescopes at the South Pole, a team of astronomers led by John M. Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics detected ripples in the fabric of space-time — so-called gravitational waves — the signature of a universe being wrenched violently apart when it was roughly a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old. They are the long-sought smoking-gun evidence of inflation, proof, Dr. Kovac and his colleagues say, that Dr. Guth was correct.
On a Wednesday afternoon, in the winter of 1980, I was sitting in a fully packed Harvard auditorium, listening to the most fascinating talk I had heard in many years. The speaker was Alan Guth, a young physicist from Stanford, and the topic was a new theory for the origin of the universe. I had not met Guth before, but I had heard of his spectacular rise from obscurity to stardom. Only a month before, he belonged to the nomadic tribe of postdocs--young researchers traveling from one temporary contract to another, in the hope of distinguishing themselves and landing a permanent job at some university. Things were looking bleak for Guth: at age thirty-two he was getting a bit too old for the youthful tribe, and the contract offers were beginning to dry out. But then he was blessed with a happy thought that changed everything.