PROFile: Beyond the observable universe

Dr. Evan McDonough, assistant professor, Department of Physics

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Originally from Kingston, Ont., Evan McDonough obtained his PhD at McGill University. Before working at the University of Winnipeg, he held research-fellow positions at Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Chicago.

McDonough became interested in astrophysics as a teenager. “My original interest in cosmology came from the idea of parallel universes or the multiverse. What really opened my mind is that this was actually a job that people had, researching whether a multiverse exists,” he says.

As a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, entertaining new notions of the universe and beyond is part of McDonough’s job. By his own description, he “researches the physics of the very small (fundamental particles, quantum fields) and the very big (galaxies and galaxy clusters).”

McDonough explains that the observable universe is basically homogeneous. “If you look at the night sky, statistically, the universe looks the same in every direction. In particular, the laws of physics are the same,” he says.

A multiverse would mean that, far away enough from this observable universe, the laws of physics may vary. “What if the electrons had a mass that was 10 times larger in some far away part of the universe? That would be tantamount to saying those far-away regions are their own distinct universes,” McDonough says.

“There may be other civilizations that have their own observable universe. By definition, we can’t observe each other, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist,” he says.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

“At the University of Winnipeg.”

What do you do in your spare time?

“I like to play music and go for runs.”

What do you like about Winnipeg?

“I like that it is a city that most of the time feels like a town. It has a lot of the perks of a city and a lot of the perks of a town.”

Published in Volume 77, Number 02 of The Uniter (September 15, 2022)

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