Published: 06th March 2017
Meet the cosmologist who tells filmmakers how to get 'space stuff' spot on in the movies
Dr Roberto Trotta, theoretical cosmologist from Imperial College, London was in India recently and he spoke about the universe, cosmology, and life on other planets
It's not everyday we come across a cosmologist who takes it upon himself to explain the big bang to planets in other solar systems, from dark matter to dark energy, from the destiny of the Universe to its fundamental reality, from the work of Hubble to Einstein in layman terms so that everyone knows what's going on around us. Dr Roberto Trotta does that and more. He wrote 'The Edge of the Sky', a book on latest discoveries and mysteries in modern cosmology using only the most common thousand words in English and without using words like universe or even planets! "The goal is to learn more about the history and nature of the Universe, by using cosmology as a Universe-sized laboratory for particle and high energy physics," he smiles.
Science Communicator: Dr Roberto Trotta explains how viable inter-planetary travel is
The theoretical cosmologist who works at the Imperial College, London just doesn't stop with his research on cosmology and analysing, interpreting and making sense of cosmological observations, he's also a science communicator and takes part in numerous public engagements with science activities, from science festivals to radio broadcasts. He's the Director of Imperial's Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication. He's also an STFC Public Engagement Fellow and is currently running a public engagement programme called 'The Hands-On Universe'. He does statistical consultancy and custom-made data analysis solutions for a broad variety of clients and also works as a scientific consultant with museums, writers, film makers and artists, providing the help and support they need to make their artistic creations scientifically sound. We caught up with him while he was in the city to conduct a lecture on “Measuring the Expansion History of the Universe” at IIT Madras recently.
Excerpts from the chat,
How did you get interested in cosmology?
I was studying Physics at an university level because I was interested in how the universe works, but when it came to specialisations I knew I had to pick cosmology, it was the natural choice because it deals with the biggest questions, the origin of big bang or composition of the universe. While I was doing my doctorate, I realised it brings together the theoretical ideas with observations. Unless we have data and measurement we can't make progress. I find both to be really important.
Spacetime Odessey: Dr Roberto Trotta's book, The Edge of the Sky
What are your thoughts on commercial inter-planetary travel?
Projects like Space-X is very exciting if they can make it happen. I believe hoping to do what NASA and others are doing at a fraction of the cost is extremely ambitious and I doubt if this will be possible. I may not be an expert in space but space travel is no easy feat so to do that at a commercial level after addressing the safety concerns is really difficult. Having said that few years back India launched Mangalyaan without spending much and it is very encouraging to see all this at how people are getting creative to explore space. But human flight in space is just too risky to take it lightly.
Do you believe in life on other planets?
From a biological and theoretical point of view, chances are that life exists. Personally I think it's not just possible but definitely probable. But the big question here is that whether we can find out for sure or we can even go there. Our galaxy in the milky way has about fifty billion stars and about fifty per cent of the stars have planets around them and only say one seventh of them are habitable and that makes up for a huge number. We are talking about just our galaxy. Imagine the rest of the galaxies in our universe. Just the maths of it makes you wonder. We may not be able to find out about this life out there with the technology we have right now.
How do you do consulting for movies and artists?
I want to help people understand science when you tell a story or movie with astronomical content to it. People want to tell a space story but don’t know how. So I do that on the side. I believe it is more important to make people think about it, you don’t need to get in depth of the details of the science behind it all you need to do is get them curious. As long as people don't drastically alter scientific facts about space in their movies, we should encourage movies like Interstellar and like.
You can reach him out through his Twitter handle, @R_Trotta
Check out this short film, The Theory of Everything, in which Dr Trotta consulted