Speaker: Neil Turok (Perimeter Institute)
The last decade has seen extraordinary progress in our knowledge of the structure and evolution of the Universe. Many detailed predictions of the basic Big Bang picture have been confirmed, but big puzzles remain. What are the dark matter and the dark energy? Why is the latter so tiny, and yet not zero. And what caused the Bang? Was it the beginning, or was there a time before it? Remarkably, these questions are becoming ripe for scientific inquiry. New approaches to quantum gravity - based on string and M-theory - allow us to study theoretically regimes where Einstein's classical theory fails. And observations only now becoming feasible may be able to conclusively discriminate between the single-bang, inflationary picture and alternate, non-inflationary, cyclical scenarios. Questions previously thought to be firmly in the realm of philosophy or theology are steadily becoming a part of normal science.