HOW did our universe begin? This is one of the deepest questions of all, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s impossible to answer. But Laura Mersini Houghton He says he has figured it out. A cosmologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she was born and raised under the communist dictatorship in Albania, where her father was considered ideologically opposed to the regime and exiled. She later won a Fulbright scholarship to study in the US, forging a career in cosmology in which she has tackled the origins of the universe and made an extraordinary proposal.
The big idea of Mersini-Houghton is that the universe in its earliest moments can be understood as a quantum wave function, a mathematical description of a haze of possibilities, giving rise to many different universes besides our own. She has also made predictions about how other universes would leave an imprint on ours. Those ideas have been controversial, with some physicists arguing that her predictions are invalid. But Mersini-Houghton argues that they have been confirmed by observations of the radiation left over from the big bang, known as the cosmic microwave background.
Here she says new scientist about his ideas and his life, which he has described in his new book Before the Big Bang: The origins of our universe in the multiverse.
Rowan Hooper: Let’s start with your own story of growing up in Albania. To what extent has that shaped your thinking?
Laura Mersini-Houghton: It has contributed a lot. I was lucky because I had the kind of parents who realized early on that I was interested…