Cosmic Conversations: Region of Waterloo Institute Podcast Explores Tricky Questions of the Universe

Colin Hunter, Director of Communications at Perimeter Institute, and Lauren Hayward, Quantum Scientist and Lecturer at Perimeter Institute, co-host “Conversations at the Perimeter,” a new podcast from Perimeter Institute in Waterloo.
  • Marshall Ward is a local freelance writer and artist.

The late astronomer Carl Sagan wrote, “Somewhere, something amazing is waiting to be known.”

Sagan sparked my childhood fascination with astronomy through his book “Cosmos” and the TV show that followed. He sent my imagination flying to the distant past and future of our universe.

This childhood fascination has never wavered. On clear nights, I gaze through my backyard telescope at the moon’s craters, Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s four largest moons, and many other celestial wonders.

So I was immediately hooked when I heard “Conversations at the Perimeter,” a new podcast from the Perimeter Institute, Waterloo Region’s one-of-a-kind research center where many of the world’s leading theoretical physicists are pursuing great breakthroughs in our understanding of the cosmos. .

Colin Hunter, director of communications at Perimeter Institute and longtime friend, first drew my attention to the podcast, which he co-hosts with Lauren Hayward, a quantum scientist and lecturer at Perimeter Institute.

In each episode, Lauren and Colin discuss with another brilliant scientist the thorniest questions in the universe: what is the big bang? What’s inside a black hole? How does quantum entanglement work?

A recent episode featured astrophysicist Katie Mack, who has over 400,000 Twitter followers. @AstroKatie. She is Perimeter’s first Hawking Fellow in Cosmology and Science Communication, a position named in honor of its science hero, Stephen Hawking.

She also wrote the wonderful book “The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)”, which outlines the most likely ways our universe will go kaput (spoiler: not for a very, very long time…probably). The end of the universe might seem like fat for a podcast, but the conversation between Katie, Lauren, and Colin made the topic surprisingly fun and accessible for curious non-scientists like me.

I was also enthralled by the episode featuring Timothy Hsieh, an expert in the puzzling quantum field of subatomic particles, entanglement, superposition and other intriguing concepts (even if they sometimes give me cramps cerebral).

And then there was the episode featuring theoretical physicist and international bestselling author Carlo Rovelli, whose “Seven Short Lessons in Physics” has been translated into more than 40 languages. Rovelli espouses the importance of “unlearning,” of discarding long-held ideas when evidence points in new directions. He explained how science, philosophy, art, literature and mythology are part of our human journey to make sense of the universe and our place in it.

New episodes of “Perimeter Conversations” release Thursdays on all major podcast platforms, and the Perimeter YouTube channel features hundreds of public talks, interviews, how-to videos and hands-on science activities.

What shines through in every conversation are not complex mathematical equations (thank goodness), but very human stories about an insatiable curiosity, a sense of awe for our universe, and a desire to push the boundaries of human knowledge.

The early episodes reminded me of Sagan’s wise promise that somewhere, something amazing is waiting to be known. The universe is immense, mysterious and infinitely fascinating.

My backyard telescope lets me gaze at other planets in our solar system and distant constellations, but barely peeks into the far, unknown realms explored by theoretical physicists. They decipher the universe at its most breathtaking and tiniest scales.

If you want to do some brain yoga and explore the amazing things waiting to be experienced in our amazing cosmos, I can’t recommend better tour guides than Lauren, Colin and their brilliant guests on “Conversations at the Perimeter”.

Marshall Ward is a freelance writer and artist. Check out her award-winning “Bonn Park” podcast with Sara Geidlinger on Apple Podcasts, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.