Georges Lemaître (1894-1966), a Jesuit-educated Belgian Catholic priest, mathematician, astronomer, and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven, was the first to identify that the recession of nearby galaxies could be explained by a theory of an expanding universe. His theory was observationally confirmed soon afterwards by Edwin Hubble. Ironically, it was Lemaître who was the first to derive what is now known as Hubble’s law, or the Hubble-Lemaître law, and who made the first estimation of what is now called the Hubble constant – two years before Hubble’s own article. Lemaître also proposed the “hypothesis of the primeval atom” or what later became known as the “Big Bang theory”.
And yet, his contribution to modern science and cosmology was so much more even than that. Lemaître made use of computers throughout his career, making contributions to programming languages, introducing electronic computers to Belgium, quantum chemistry, cosmology, dynamical models of galaxies and clusters, the 3-body problem, harmonic analysis and an early form of the Fast Fourier transform.
As we enter the era of the fourth paradigm of scientific enquiry, data intensive scientific discovery, we will discuss Lemaître’s role in introducing mechanical computers to help with simulating phenomena, to discover new knowledge and laws from data, and to confront data with theory.
Rev Dr Jeremy Yates is a senior research associate at University College London. He studied Natural Science (Physics) at Pembroke College Cambridge (1989) and developed an abiding interest in radio astronomy and computing. He completed a PhD in Radio Astronomy at Jodrell Bank studying mass loss from AGB stars. He has undertaken research into star formation, stellar evolution, photon transport, data science, AI and computer science.
He is currently the Director of Innovation and Technology for the DiRAC Project and in 2019 and was appointed to be joint-lead of the UK’s Exascale computing Hardware and Enabling Software Programme. In 2017 Dr Yates was ordained a Permanent Deacon in the RC Church and his Parish is Guardian Angels, Mile End, London.
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