NPR logo WATCH: Physicist Gets 'Smoking Gun' Proof Of His Theory


WATCH: Physicist Gets 'Smoking Gun' Proof Of His Theory

When the news of a lifetime finally arrived at their door, Stanford physicist Andrei Linde and his wife wondered aloud if one of them was expecting a delivery.

In a manner of speaking, that's just what they got. The messenger was fellow physicist Chao-Lin Kuo, a member of the BICEP2 team; the message was the "smoking gun" proof that Linde's cosmological inflation theory, co-developed in the 1980s with Alan Guth and others, was right on the money.

Kuo and his colleagues announced on Monday that they believe to a high-degree of certainty that they have detected gravitational waves in the faint afterglow of the Big Bang. Linde's theory of cosmological inflation — which posits that for the briefest of moments at the very beginning of the universe, gravity was a repulsive force spawning a massive expansion — had predicted that such gravity waves would be found.

It's a big deal in the world of physics, and already there's talk of a potential Nobel Prize.

Kuo, with camera in tow, wanted to be the one to break the good news to Linde. So, when Linde and his wife, Renata, answered the door, it was the first time they'd heard the result:

"It's five-sigma," Kuo tells him, referring to the extremely high probability that gravity waves had in fact been detected by the group's telescope at the South Pole.

Renata appears to grasp the import of the news before her incredulous husband does. Andrei asks Kuo to repeat himself — twice.

[Add at 5:55 p.m. ET. Thanks to commenter Christopher Watson for pointing out that Linde's wife, Renata Kallosh, is also a Stanford physicist working on gravity waves and M/string theory, among other things.]

You can watch the full video of Kuo's surprise visit above.