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The Gravity of the Situation


Smith, Tristan Laine (2008) The Gravity of the Situation. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/SY21-6Z52.


In this thesis we examine several ways in which we can explore the early universe through gravitational-waves and the fundamental nature of gravity through cosmology and observations of dynamics within the solar system. Both of these topics have taken center stage, as we are living at a unique time which promises to bring fundamental insights into the nature of gravity with the discovery of new binary pulsar systems, the building of increasingly precise solar system and tabletop experiments and the birth of gravitational-wave observatories-- to name a few recent and upcoming advances.

We first discuss whether we may be able to directly detect gravitational waves from inflation using future space-based interferometers. We then describe how the direct detection of inflationary gravitational waves will allow us to probe the fundamental physics that operated at the earliest moments of the universe. Next, a new constraint to a general cosmological gravitational wave background is presented using the observations of the cosmic microwave background. Moving away from general relativity, we consider alternative theories of gravity. One reason to consider alternative theories of gravity is the observation that the expansion of the universe is currently accelerating. It is possible that this accelerated expansion is due to a modification of gravity. However, any theory that modifies gravity in order to produce accelerated expansion must also conform to the dynamics that we observe within the Solar System. We discuss how the observation of the deflection of light around the Sun places severe limitations on a particular modified gravity theory, known as f(R) gravity. Our discussion of f(R) gravity leads us to ask whether the parameterized post Newtonian parameter, γPPN, takes on a universal value. We identify measurements made of strong lensing around early type galaxies in the Sloan Lens ACS (SLACS) survey as a first step in performing this new test of gravity. Finally, we explore some consequences of Chern-Simons gravity. One of the unique aspects of Chern-Simons gravity is that it introduces parity violation into the gravitational sector. As a consequence, it predicts a different gravitomagnetic field around the rotating Earth than is predicted in general relativity. We show how recent measurements of this gravitomagnetic field made by observing the two LAser GEOdynamics Satellites (LAGEOS) and Gravity Probe B satellites constrain Chern-Simons gravity. Finally, we discuss how future observations of binary pulsar systems may allow for a more general exploration of the gravitomagnetic structure around rotating objects.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:alternative gravity theories; cosmological inflation; gravitational waves; gravitomagnetism; theoretical cosmology
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Major Option:Physics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Kamionkowski, Marc P.
Thesis Committee:
  • Kamionkowski, Marc P. (chair)
  • Lange, Andrew E.
  • Cooray, Asantha
  • Thorne, Kip S.
Defense Date:20 May 2008
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-05282008-153540
Persistent URL:
Smith, Tristan Laine0000-0003-2685-5405
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:2214
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:02 Jun 2008
Last Modified:03 Dec 2019 22:30

Thesis Files

PDF (tristan_smith_thesis.pdf) - Final Version
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