JHU cosmologists touted for work on 'origami universe'

Two Johns Hopkins University research scientists who use origami—the Japanese art of paper folding—as a metaphor for understanding the complexity of the cosmos have been named winners of an award through the New Frontiers in Astronomy & Cosmology International Grant and Essay Writing Competition, funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Image caption: Origami galaxies

Mark Neyrinck and Miguel Aragón-Calvo, both of the Krieger School's Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy, were chosen from an international competition to receive a grant to explore fundamental questions in astronomy and cosmology that engage groundbreaking ideas on the nature of the universe. Both scientists are part of Johns Hopkins' Institute for Data Intensive Engineering and Science, a center led by fellow astrophysicist and computer scientist Alexander Szalay that is aimed at developing new ways of building and analyzing huge data sets.

"It's fantastic to get recognition and support for these fundamental issues of gravity on large scales," says Neyrinck, the principal investigator on the grant. "In modern cosmology, sometimes it seems like it's entirely about adding more digits to parameters. This is essential to do to determine what's going on, but it's important to push on the conceptual front, too. The cosmic web is an area where there's still much to be understood."

The team's work will address the question, What is the origin of the complexity in the universe? with a new definition of the complexity residing in the "cosmic web," the cellular, weblike arrangement of matter and galaxies in the universe. This definition is related to an origami analogy of the cosmic web: The amount of complexity in a structure such as a galaxy or filament of galaxies increases with the amount of "origami paper" that gets folded up to construct the structure.

The team will use this definition for the first all-inclusive quantitative measurement of the complexity, or entropy, in the cosmic web. In modern theories of gravity, entropy is a subtle concept, but it seems to be of crucial importance. Fully understanding gravitational entropy may provide the key to the mystery of "dark energy," the accelerated expansion of the universe, the co-discovery of which garnered Johns Hopkins Professor Adam Riess a share of last year's Nobel Prize in physics.

The Johns Hopkins scientists received their award at a conference held last month at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute.

The awards given this year by the foundation mark the century celebration of the birth of Sir John Templeton, a philanthropist who regarded cosmology and astronomy as exemplary scientific pursuits that expanded humanity's vision of the world.