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Cosmologist Stephen Hawking on October 10, 1979 in Princeton, New Jersey. Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images

Nsikan Akpan Nsikan Akpan

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Read Stephen Hawking’s final theory on the Big Bang

Before he passed away in March, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking had published more than 230 articles on the birth of the universe, black holes and quantum mechanics. It turns out he had one more theory left in the locker.

On Wednesday, the Journal of High Energy Physics published the British scientist’s final thoughts on the Big Bang, the leading theory for how the universe began. The new report, co-authored by Belgian physicist Thomas Hertog, counters the longstanding idea that the universe will expand for eternity. Instead, the authors argue the Big Bang had a finite boundary, defined by string theory and holograms.

Wait, what?

If you asked an astrophysicist today to describe what happened after the Big Bang, he would likely start with the concept of “cosmic inflation.” Cosmic inflation argues that right after the Big Bang — we’re talking after a teeny fraction of a second — the universe expanded at breakneck speed like dough in an oven.

But this exponential expansion should create, due to quantum mechanics, regions where the universe continues to grow forever and regions where that growth stalls. The result would be a multiverse, a collection of bubblelike pockets, each defined by its own laws of physics.

Diagram of evolution of the (observable part) of the universe from the Big Bang (left) to the present. After the Big Bang and inflation,   the expansion of the universe gradually slowed  down for the next several billion years, as the matter in the universe pulled on itself via gravity. More recently, the expansion has begun to speed up again as the repulsive effects of dark energy have come to dominate the expansion of the universe. Image by NASA

Diagram of evolution of the (observable part) of the universe from the Big Bang (left) to the present. After the Big Bang and inflation, the expansion of the universe gradually slowed down for the next several billion years, as the matter in the universe pulled on itself via gravity. More recently, the expansion has begun to speed up again as the repulsive effects of dark energy have come to dominate the expansion of the universe. Image and caption by NASA

“The local laws of physics and chemistry can differ from one pocket universe to another, which together would form a multiverse,” Hertog said in a statement . “But I have never been a fan of the multiverse. If the scale of different universes in the multiverse is large or infinite the theory can’t be tested.”

Along with being difficult to support, the multiverse theory, which was co-developed by Hawking in 1983, doesn’t jibe with classical physics, namely the contributions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity as they relate to the structure and dynamics of the universe.

“As a consequence, Einstein’s theory breaks down in eternal inflation,” Hertog said.

Einstein’s theory of general relativity says space and time aren’t fixed, but bending to the forces of gravity. But the concept doesn’t fit with quantum mechanics, the quirky physics that deals with the smallest of things — subatomic particles.

Einstein spent his life searching for a unified theory, a way to reconcile the biggest and smallest of things, general relativity and quantum mechanics. He died never having achieved that goal, but leagues of physicists like Hawking followed in Einstein’s footsteps. One path led to holograms.

The new theory

Last July, Hawking and Hertog presented this new theory of the multiverse during a conference at the University of Cambridge to celebrate Hawking’s 75th birthday.

Their idea hinges on the so-called “holographic principle.” As its name suggests, the principle argues that the universe is a hologram. The principle hails from string theory, the branch of physics trying to make general relativity and quantum mechanics coexist.

String theory stipulates the world is made of strings, existing mathematically as nine dimensions of space and one dimension of time. You’re familiar with the first three dimensions — length, height and depth — and hopefully the fourth, time.

But one of those strings dictates the presence of gravity. Remove it, and gravity no longer exists.

Hawking and Hertog’s new theory plays off this idea, suggesting the world as we know it can be reduced mathematically into a simplified version of itself — that can be expressed without gravity. It’s almost like a 3-D projection being explained in 2-D — or a hologram. (There’s actually evidence that the world works this way).

Now, imagine you were to do the same thing for time: remove the string that governs it. This forms the basis of Hawking and Hertog’s new theory.

Why it matters

If time is a removable string, then there could be places or moments in the history of the universe that operate without it.

In Hawking and Hertog’s newest theory, time is the fly in the ointment, keeping cosmic inflation from aligning with general relativity. So they treated the moments after the Big Bang, when inflation occurred, as a timeless state. In essence, they’re saying this period of inflation operated outside the bounds of Einstein’s relativity.

That, in turn, would reduce the number of local laws governing the universe and bring scientists closer to a unified theory.

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This concept contradicts an idea that Hawking proposed decades ago: that the beginning of time had no boundaries. “Now we’re saying that there is a boundary in our past,” Hertog said. In other words, that boundary is the absence of time right after the Big Bang.

Their report said these calculations tame the multiverse, creating a simpler and more consistent structure of the universe.

“We are not down to a single, unique universe, but our findings imply a significant reduction of the multiverse, to a much smaller range of possible universes,” Hawking said in an interview last autumn.

Some physicists point out that the Hawking-Hertog theory is preliminary and should be considered speculation until other mathematicians can replicate its equations.

You can judge for yourself. Hawking’s final paper is open-access and available for download at the Journal of High Energy Physics. Or you can read a preprint version of the piece down below, courtesy of arXiv :

Nsikan Akpan is the digital science producer for PBS NewsHour and co-creator of the award-winning, NewsHour digital series ScienceScope .

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big bang theory research paper conclusion

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Title: the big-bang theory: construction, evolution and status.

Abstract: Over the past century, rooted in the theory of general relativity, cosmology has developed a very successful physical model of the universe: the {\em big-bang model}. Its construction followed different stages to incorporate nuclear processes, the understanding of the matter present in the universe, a description of the early universe and of the large scale structure. This model has been confronted to a variety of observations that allow one to reconstruct its expansion history, its thermal history and the structuration of matter. Hence, what we refer to as the big-bang model today is radically different from what one may have had in mind a century ago. This construction changed our vision of the universe, both on observable scales and for the universe as a whole. It offers in particular physical models for the origins of the atomic nuclei, of matter and of the large scale structure. This text summarizes the main steps of the construction of the model, linking its main predictions to the observations that back them up. It also discusses its weaknesses, the open questions and problems, among which the need for a dark sector including dark matter and dark energy.

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  • Published: 04 November 2019

Big Bang theory

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Half of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to James Peebles “for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology” and the other half is shared by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz “for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star”.

When we look at the night sky, we see not only the Moon but hundreds or thousands of stars — maybe even one of the brighter planets in our Solar System. It’s hard to grasp that this visible matter makes up a mere five per cent of our Universe. With the remainder thought to be dark matter and dark energy, we seem to know little about the Universe. However, to honour the knowledge that we have, this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to James Peebles, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz “for [their] contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the Universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos”.

An early indication for the origin of our Universe was the suggestion by Robert Dicke, James Peebles, Peter Roll and David Wilkinson that the cosmic microwave background could originate from a hot Big Bang 1 . But this would not remain Peebles’s only important contribution to modern cosmology. Throughout his career, many more publications ranging from the cosmic microwave background to galaxy formation followed.

One of his most notable works, carried out jointly with Jeremiah Ostriker, was the discovery that large amounts of dark matter must be present in the halo of spiral galaxies such as the Milky Way as otherwise the flat galactic disk would be unstable 2 . In 1982, Peebles’s studies of non-relativistic or cold dark matter (CDM; ref. 3 ) laid the foundations for the standard model of cosmology — the ΛCDM model. Apart from standard baryonic matter, this model incorporates CDM and dark energy associated with the cosmological constant Λ , which Peebles put back on the map after its famous dismissal by Albert Einstein.

Whereas Peebles shaped our current understanding of how galaxies and galaxy clusters form, Mayor’s and Queloz’s discovery influenced our knowledge of planet formation. When the two started their monitoring campaign, planets outside our Solar System (exoplanets) orbiting a pulsar had been discovered, but not in orbit around a solar-type star. Periodic variations in the radial velocity of the star 51 Pegasi revealed such a planetary companion, 51 Pegasi b (ref. 4 ). The exoplanet’s mass was estimated to be at least half of Jupiter’s — a puzzling observation in light of the short orbital period of around four days.

The discovery of 51 Pegasi b posed a riddle to planet formation as its separation from 51 Pegasi was too small for the planet to be Jupiter-like. The authors speculated that the exoplanet might have been formed from a stripped brown dwarf. Since Mayor’s and Queloz’s observations, thousands of exoplanets have been discovered and continue to inspire advances in planetary formation models.

Despite this huge leap in understanding of our Universe, plenty of discoveries are still waiting to be made — from the exact process of planet formation to figuring out what dark matter is made of. Whatever we’ll find along the way, we know that it all started with the Big Bang.

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big bang theory research paper conclusion

Why Big Bang is so Accepted and Popular: Some Contributions of a Thematic Analysis

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  • Volume 32 , pages 433–458, ( 2022 )

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big bang theory research paper conclusion

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Some important and decisive observations allowed a widespread and almost unquestionable acceptance of the big bang cosmology, but we can admit and search other factors that have contributed and continue to contribute to the enormous acceptance and great popularity of this cosmological conception, not only inside but also outside of cosmology and even in numerous no scientific contexts. To find some of those factors, a case study was undertaken based on thematic analysis , an analytical tool which is based on the idea that the scientific activity, in addition to a theoretical and an experimental dimensions, has a third dimension with psychological and cultural elements called themata that strongly influence the construction of scientific theories and also their acceptance or rejection. This case study focused on the most important founding texts of big bang cosmology, namely articles and books of Alexandre Friedmann, Georges Lemaître, and George Gamow, covering three decades of important developments (1922–1952), and the founding texts of its great rival, the steady-state cosmology. This article presents a summary of the main results of this case study, which allowed to identify several themata with a very important role in the big bang cosmology: differentiation and unification (methodological themata ); unity, creation, change, evolution, constancy (of mass/energy), simplicity, life cycle, circularity, and disorder (conceptual themata ). All these themata form a methodological and conceptual matrix—with a triple dimension: historical, transversal/cultural, and psychological—that can help explain the acceptance and popularity of the big bang cosmology within and beyond its disciplinary boundaries.

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big bang theory research paper conclusion

Big Bang, an Idea Projected Beyond Cosmology: The Possible Contribution of Thematic Analysis to the Understanding of This Success

big bang theory research paper conclusion

Shedding light on the biographical research field: profiles of publication

big bang theory research paper conclusion

More than meets the eye: traditions, nucleus and peripheries of the biographical research field

In november 1951 Pope Pius XII addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, presenting the speech entitled “The Proofs for the Existence of God in the Light of Modern Natural Science ” . In this speech we clearly can see his sympathy for the cosmological advances that suggested and tried to explain one beginning and an evolution of the universe. The following passages are especially illustrative:

“In proportion to the distance in time to which we turn backward, matter is seen to be richer and richer in free energy and the theatre of great cosmic upheavals. Thus, everything seems to indicate that the material universe has had, in finite time, a powerful start, provided as it was with an unimaginable abundance of reserves in energy; then, with increasing slowness, it has evolved to its present state.

Two questions spontaneously come to mind:

Is science in a position to say when this powerful beginning of the cosmos took place? And what was the initial, primitive state of the universe?

The most noted experts in atomic physics, in co-operation with the astronomers and the astrophysicists, have put great effort into shedding light on these two difficult but extremely interesting problems. (…) With equal earnestness and freedom of investigation and verification, learned men, in addition to the question of the age of the cosmos, have applied their audacious talents to another question which we have already mentioned and which is certainly much more difficult, and that is the problem concerning the state and quality of primitive matter. According to the theories which are taken as a basis, the relative calculations differ considerably one from the other. Nevertheless, the scientists agree in holding that not only the mass but also the density, the pressure, and the temperature must have attained degrees of enormous intensity, as can be seen in the recent work of A. Unsöld, director of the Observatory in Kiel. Only under these conditions can one comprehend the formation of the heavy nuclei and their relative frequency in the periodical system of the elements.

On the other hand, the eager mind, in its search for truth, rightfully insists upon asking how matter came to be in a state so unlike that of our common experience of today, and what preceded it.” (Pius XII 1951 ).

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Here are some of the many examples of this use of the term “big bang”: the album of the famous rock band The Rolling Stones, released in 2005, is called The Bigger Bang and has the image of a language (symbol of the band disintegrating explosively; one of the most famous pop bands in South Korea is the pop band Big Bang and in Europe there is an international music festival, which takes place in several countries, called Big Bang—Music Festival for Children ; one of the most popular tv shows in the world is the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory ; in 2010 and 2011, two films appeared in the cinema with Big Bang in the titles— Nanny Mcfee and the Big Bang and the action film The Big Bang ; the famous brand of electronic games Nintendo has a game called Big Bang Mini ; there are companies that produce and sell invitations called Big Bang Black Hole Pop Art for birthday parties called Big Bang Party ! ; there are circus shows called Big Bang Factory ; there is a line of lamps called Big Bang and an American decorative mosaic company called Big Bang Mosaics , whose logo is the image of a fragmentation that clearly refers to the cosmic big bang explosion; in 2014, television publicity of i8 model of the famous car brand BMW explicitly spoke of the big bang and contained several textual and visual elements that implicitly refer to the cosmic big bang; in 2014, a Portuguese supermarket chain created a food sale promotion which it called Big Bang ; there are, in several countries, cafés and restaurants called Big Bang ; in 2013, a Brazilian police operation was called Operação Big Bang ; there is an international anti-poverty NGO called Big Bang Ballers …

In most of these cases, the term “big bang” (or “Big Bang”) functions as a brand that promotes a product, what Helge Kragh calls a "big bang label” (Kragh 2013a , p. 35). This label is rarely associated with the original cosmological sense of the big bang; sometimes it just maintains the sense of a large-scale event, explosion, or fragmentation; other times, it’s just a name considered interesting and capable of attracting attention. But, invariably, the term “Big Bang” (in capital letters) has a positive and captivating connotation.

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Barbosa, J. Why Big Bang is so Accepted and Popular: Some Contributions of a Thematic Analysis. Axiomathes 32 , 433–458 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10516-021-09533-y

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73 Big Bang Theory Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

🏆 best big bang theory topic ideas & essay examples.

  • ✅ Most Interesting Big Bang Theory Topics to Write about

⭐ Good Research Topics about Big Bang Theory

❓ questions about the big bang theory.

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IvyPanda. (2024, March 2). 73 Big Bang Theory Essay Topic Ideas & Examples. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/big-bang-theory-essay-topics/

"73 Big Bang Theory Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." IvyPanda , 2 Mar. 2024, ivypanda.com/essays/topic/big-bang-theory-essay-topics/.

IvyPanda . (2024) '73 Big Bang Theory Essay Topic Ideas & Examples'. 2 March.

IvyPanda . 2024. "73 Big Bang Theory Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." March 2, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/big-bang-theory-essay-topics/.

1. IvyPanda . "73 Big Bang Theory Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." March 2, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/big-bang-theory-essay-topics/.

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IvyPanda . "73 Big Bang Theory Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." March 2, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/big-bang-theory-essay-topics/.

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Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology

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VII Atheism, Theism, and Big Bang Cosmology

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This chapter begins a debate on the relevance of Big Bang cosmology to the philosophy of religion. It deals with William Lane Craig's theistic cosmological argument that Big Bang cosmology and considerations about finitude and the past warrant the belief that God exists. This chapter provides an atheistic cosmological argument that the classical Big Bang cosmology is inconsistent with theism because of the unpredictable nature of the Big Bang singularity.

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Identification and Adoption of Themes in The Big Bang Theory Sitcom to Foster Academic Cultural Competencies of Doctoral Students in English for Academic Conversation Classroom

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The primary purpose of this study is to identify academic cultural themes in the popular television sitcom The Big Bang Theory in order to enhance doctoral students’ awareness and acquisition of Ph.D. competencies through formalized and explicit instruction. The secondary aim is to assess the impact of the selected academic themes on doctoral students’ acquisition of Ph.D. competencies in an English for Academic Conversation (EAC) classroom. Drawing upon the concept of thematic learning instruction, a qualitative research method involving six clusters of Ph.D. competency reference framework developed by Durette and others was adopted to identify the academic cultural themes depicted by the sitcom’s main characters. This is followed by evaluating the effectiveness of an EAC course in fostering learners’ Ph.D. competencies using selected identified academic cultural themes. The result showed that the sitcom’s main characters demonstrate the personal and professional skills commonly possessed by a competent academic as an individual or group. This is evidenced as all the thirty-four identified skills traverse the six clusters of Ph.D. competencies devised by Durette and colleagues in 2016. Also, the impact assessment results revealed that the course fostered learners’ Ph.D. competencies as they shared knowledge, past experience, and action plans of every selected academic theme. This work contributes to existing knowledge of doctoral competencies vital to promoting competency-based Ph.D. programs in higher education.

Introduction

Academic culture can be defined as shared attitudes, values, and behaviors of lecturers, researchers, and scholars in the university’s setting ( Brick, 2020 ). This term is characterized with academic mindset, spirits, knowledge, appearance, and atmosphere, which are all aspects of the term ( Shen and Tian, 2012 ). To apply this concept, numerous researchers have investigated academic cultural competencies, also known as Ph.D. competencies ( Durette et al., 2016 ; Verderame et al., 2018 ). These competencies are advanced skills required to extend frontiers of knowledge and function effectively in academia ( Bogle et al., 2010 ). Extensive implications of Ph.D. competency studies include curriculum mapping and program enhancement plans ( Verderame et al., 2018 ). Graduate programs need this curriculum framework to develop learning objectives and outcome assessments that educational accrediting agencies commonly require. Since these skills are critical for future academics’ survival in academia, their integration into the curriculum should be considered essential in every doctoral program.

Many researchers have highlighted the skills and qualities Ph.D. students should possess by the end of their doctoral studies ( Durette et al., 2016 ; Verderame et al., 2018 ). Durette et al. (2016) developed the most up-to-date and comprehensive Ph.D. competency framework. It consists of 111 Ph.D. competencies organized into six main categories (knowledge and specialized technical skills, formalized transferable competencies, unformalized transferable competencies, disposition, behavior, and meta-competencies) ( Durette et al., 2016 ). Ph.D. programs around the world are already incorporating some of the Ph.D. competencies developed by Durette et al. (2016) . While a doctoral program may require the students to acquire cognitive capacity, task-orientedness, and interpersonal skills by the end of the program, another program may require research skills and knowledge, communication, professional development, leadership, and management as their clusters of competencies. Thus, the Ph.D. Competencies Reference Framework developed by Durette et al. (2016) can be described as a reliable guide that can help to create a competency-based Ph.D. program.

Movies arouse interest by depicting reality ( Tan, 2018 ). According to Tan, interest is the emotion required to establish a connection with, focus on, and perceive specific story-world events. Blasco et al. (2015) support this assertion by stating that a movie’s narrative impacts the viewer’s affective domains to stimulate learner reflection through a heightening of emotions. The application of its effect in the classroom involves identifying themes in a movie that can stimulate discussion and reflection, which are critical for skill or cultural acquisition. This is based on the argument that evaluation of competence depends on the learner’s ability to self-reflect and self-regulate on the skill. It is more accurate to say that acquiring skills is a process rather than an educational product, such as exams or professional reports ( Lombardi, 2008 ; Lewis et al., 2011 ). The effectiveness of this thematic learning approach has also been demonstrated in different classroom designs to foster professional competence ( Lalor et al., 2015 ), literacy competence ( McLean, 2017 ) and diagnostic competence among medical doctors ( Mamede et al., 2012 ).

Television series have developed into an excellent medium for transmitting knowledge and ideas and enhancing formal and informal learning ( Ryan and Townsend, 2010 ; Lacko, 2011 ; Konus, 2020 ). While television show such as “Friends” has been used to improve learners’ English skills ( Konus, 2020 ), the study of Lacko (2011) revealed the beneficial effect of medical dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy on medical doctors’ practice. For teachers, their representation on TV shows has been identified as a critical instrument for promoting thematic learning among preservice teachers and, as a result, developing their educational philosophy as well as their professional identities and instructional practices ( Ryan and Townsend, 2010 ). Hence, it is thought that a TV show that portrayed the life of academics can be used as a thematic instructional tool to foster academic cultural competence in doctoral programs.

The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) is an American situation comedy (sitcom) that aired its first episode on September 24, 2007 and ended on May 16, 2019. It depicts scientific accuracy and up-to-date science information ( Hewitt, 2009 ), mainly focusing on scientists’ social lives ( Thomas, 2010 ). It revolves around male scientists (Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, and Rajesh) and a female actress/waitress, Penny. In addition, three female scientists (Leslie, Bernadette, and Amy) that have appeared in different seasons are also key characters in the sitcom. The educational and informative efficacy of the show has been demonstrated in several studies. Several educators have also used scenes from the show to teach various science concepts ( Korek, 2011 ; Follert, 2015 ), economics ( Tierney et al., 2015 ), and oral English communication ( Palu, 2016 ). Therefore, since the sitcom depicts academics’ lives, it is argued that it can serve as a thematic instructional tool to foster doctoral students’ competences.

Considering the importance of a competency-based Ph.D. program, many graduate programs are yet to implement this holistic approach of training Ph.D. candidates. This can be attributed to a widely held view that only knowledge and research ability skill of a chosen field can be formalized, while the rest of the established competencies can be acquired informally ( Larkin and Morris, 2015 ). This has contributed to many doctoral students and early career scientists leaving academia due to their lack of workplace survival skills ( Etzkowitz et al., 1994 ). Therefore, creating a model that can formalize all established competencies’ learning and acquisition is critical. This will help graduate programs in providing explicit instruction on these essential competencies ( Fischer and Zigmond, 1998 ).

Against this background, this study seeks to identify academic cultural themes in TBBT that correspond to Ph.D. competencies proposed by Durette et al. (2016) reference framework, use them to foster academic cultural competence in an EAC classroom, and assess the impact of the course on doctoral students’ learning outcomes. Thus, this paper begins with the design of the theoretical and conceptual framework, followed by reviewing the literature, methodology, results and discussion, and the conclusion, which gives a summary and critiques of the findings. Throughout this paper, the term academic cultural competencies will be used interchangeably with Ph.D. competencies.

Theoretical and Conceptual Framework

The purpose of this study is to identify academic cultural themes in TBBT and to incorporate them into an EAC course in order to help postgraduate students develop their Ph.D. competencies. Thematic learning is a method of instruction that entails the adoption and application of themes in order to foster an active, interesting, and meaningful learning environment ( Min et al., 2012 ). It is predicated on the premise that students acquire knowledge or skills more efficiently when they learn coherently and holistically and can relate what they learn to their surroundings and real-world examples ( Mirjalili et al., 2012 ). The effectiveness of this approach in developing any skill in learners is that it enables teachers to present a problem within the context of a chosen theme in order to encourage reflection and the provision of a solution ( Davies and Shankar-Brown, 2011 ). However, the process of thematic learning instruction is frequently defined as identifying and integrating themes into classroom activities. However, the instructional procedure for this integrative practice is determined by the teaching objective and the integration tool chosen.

Movie clip integration is an effective way to introduce a new theme or difficult concept into a lesson plan. It contextualizes any given subject in order to facilitate a critical discussion ( Arguel and Jamet, 2009 ). In other words, the use of meaningful video clips in the classroom may be most appropriate for introductory courses, introducing complex topics in general, lower-achieving students, and visual/spatial learners ( Berk, 2009 ). The effectiveness of this approach to facilitate language learning is based on a cognitive theory of multimedia learning proposed by Mayer and Moreno (1998) . It asserts that when information is presented in both text and graphics, rather than just text, deeper learning can occur. It is predicated on the assumption of two distinct learning modes: auditory and visual, which are channels used to store data in working memory.

Dialogic learning is one of the most effective methods for developing students’ knowledge on a subject matter. It entails harnessing the power of conversation or discussion in the classroom to promote idea sharing to master a specific disciplinary knowledge and advance students’ learning and comprehension of any topic or theme ( Haneda, 2017 ). In other words, learners take on the role of protagonists in their own learning process when they engage in dialogs with peers who assist them in attaining higher levels of thinking, reasoning, and comprehension than they could achieve on their own ( Flecha, 2000 ). Additionally, it alters classroom dynamics by rebalancing the traditional power dynamic between teachers and students ( Teo, 2019 ). This approach is founded on democratic values-based dialog, in which students collaborate to gain understanding and complete tasks, progressing in their thinking and reasoning ( García-Carrión et al., 2020 ).

Reflective practice can be defined as the process of turning thoughtful practice into a potential learning situation ( Kember et al., 2000 ). According to Johns (1995) , the purpose of this practice is to facilitate the interpretation of a process or experience. It is used to improve understanding of relatively complex or unstructured ideas and is largely based on the reprocessing of previously acquired knowledge, understanding, and possibly emotions ( Chelliah and Arumugam, 2012 ). Reflective practice has been used in studies to both promote and justify skill acquisition ( Lalor et al., 2015 ; Lutz et al., 2016 ). Lynch and Clinton (2020) state that good evidence of competency should demonstrate that a learner understands how to apply knowledge, skills, and experience through reflection. The process begins with an assessment of their knowledge and experience with the concept, followed by a determination of their willingness to continue applying and expanding their understanding of the theme ( Campinha-Bacote, 2002 ). Thus, the acquisition of competencies is not limited to test results, reports, evaluations, certificates, or licenses ( Boud et al., 1985 ).

On the basis of the foregoing concepts, a model (see Figure 1 ) for fostering academic cultural competence was constructed. The model details are as follows:

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Conceptual framework on the process of academic cultural competence acquisition.

It is predicated on the premise that popular culture, such as film, reflects society’s values, norms, and beliefs. Thus, by embracing thematic learning as an instructional strategy, TBBT, a popular culture show depicting scientists’ lives, can be used to facilitate discussion and reflection among doctoral students about the academic skills, values, ethos and standards. The process of acquiring Ph.D. competencies entails identifying which sitcom academic cultural themes correspond to the Ph.D. competencies highlighted by Durette et al. (2016) . Following that, the video clips are integrated into the classroom to provide context and knowledge background for the discussion. Then, using the dialogic learning concept, whereby a discussion is facilitated in order to develop general information, experience, and knowledge about the theme. This step is carried out with the assistance of a prompt as a task-based activity. This entails developing and administering a list of questions [the Question Prompt List (QPL)] designed to facilitate discussion between two learners to generate shared general knowledge, information, and experience. Finally, Ph.D. competency acquisition is evaluated based on the learner’s ability to reflect on personal knowledge and prior experience related to the topic presented in the immediate discussion and express personal action plans related to the theme.

Literature Review

Ph.D. competency framework adoption in graduate programs has seen a steady rise over the past few years. While the number and types of skills adopted for their framework may vary from discipline to discipline, the goal is to build a framework that prepares professionals and research scholars to function effectively in academia or industry. To foster the training of these skills, a study recommended researchers’ movement across institutions/nations, supporting graduate students’ mobility (conferences, student exchanges, workshops, and joint and exchange programs), and appreciation for diversity through films, readings, and discussions in courses ( Niemczyk, 2018 ). In the author’s opinion, the following problems could impede the recommendations’ implementation in most institutions: This includes a lack of funding and resources to support students’ participation in conferences, creating international partnerships, promoting collaborations with research-oriented solid institutions, and so on. Also, recent research argued that the number of academic cultural competencies acquired depends on doctoral mode of education. Lindner et al. (2001) demonstrated that on-campus students had a higher perceived competency than distance learners. In sum, fostering doctoral competencies in higher education is challenging and it depends on the program’s mode. The gap in the literature is a framework that can help formalize every aspect of academic cultural competencies.

The Big Bang Theory has been the target of numerous educational studies. Foremost, a study focused on how the sitcom portrays the life of a group of scientists that is more diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, and most importantly disciplinary focus than what is commonly seen on television ( Weitekamp, 2017 ). The author highlights how the characters demonstrate scientific authenticity, brainstorm ideas, and academic working structure. This discussion metamorphosed into how the audience perceives the show. For example a publication is aimed at strengthening the media’s role in communicating science ( Li, 2016 ), and the results show that the sitcom stimulates many audiences to discover more about the scientific information presented in the show. Also, the viewers are willing to learn different facets of science when watching entertainment television. Moreover, recent publications have adopted the sitcom as a resource to facilitate learning in several disciplines. Geerling et al. (2018) use clips of the show to teach numerous concepts of economics. Another study analyzes the interruptions on the show to teach how to ask and give an opinion ( Annisa, 2016 ). Lastly, TBBT is used in the field of English as a Foreign Language to develop teachers of English’s knowledge of American culture, which is critical for their students’ English learning ( Lee, 2016 ).

Taking these considerations into account, the purpose of this study is to identify academic cultural themes in TBBT, to align these themes with Durette et al. (2016) Ph.D. competencies, and use the themes to foster doctoral academic cultural competence in the EAC classroom. The research was motivated by the following questions:

  • 1. What are the identified academic cultural themes in TBBT that correspond to Ph.D. competencies developed by Durette et al. (2016) ?
  • 2. What is the effectiveness of the EAC course in fostering learners’ Ph.D. competencies using selected identified academic cultural themes?

Research Design

This paper seeks to identify academic cultural themes in TBBT and to foster Ph.D. competencies among doctoral students. The research design is based on philosophical approach. That is, researcher’s assumptions about how data should be gathered, analyzed, and adopted ( Collins, 2010 ). Figure 2 shows that the study design involves adopting Durette et al. (2016) Ph.D. competency framework, using video clips of the various themes to foster Ph.D. competency, and assessing the impact of the themes in the videos on students’ learning outcomes.

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Research design on the process of academic cultural competencies acquisition.

Themes Identification

Source of data for themes identification and analysis.

The data for this analysis was sourced from TBBT episodes. Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady, and Steven Molaro all served as executive producers on the series. The show debuted on CBS on September 24, 2007, and concluded after 279 episodes over 12 seasons. Leonard and Sheldon share an apartment with Penny, who is an aspiring actress. They are friends and coworkers to Howard and Raj, who are aerospace engineers and astrophysicists at Caltech. Also starring is microbiologist Bernadette Rostenkowski and neuroscientist, Amy Farrah Fowler. Other supporting characters include an experimental physicist, Leslie Winkle and comic book store owner, Stuart Bloom.

Instrumentation for Themes Identification and Analysis

Durette et al. (2016) built the Ph.D. Competencies Reference Framework, a recently updated comprehensive competency framework which provides enough detail and accuracy to meet the skill needs of a Ph.D. student. The researchers utilize a two-tiered approach. Normalization is the first step ( Arampatzis et al., 2000 ). Semantically similar terms are mapped to a single canonical representative word. A combination of morphological normalization ( Arampatzis et al., 2000 ). The scholars classify all of the 16,000 expressions or words linked to competencies into 500 semantically similar clusters. Human resource experts analyzed their clusters to learn about their importance and accuracy. When needed, clusters were broken into smaller clusters. Second, clusters were arranged into increasingly finer levels of precision in the data. Using a bottom-up approach, their human resource experts used the grounded theory framework in the procedure ( Strauss and Corbin, 1998 ). Identifying similar competencies within a cluster defined lower-level definitions (though semantically distinct). The process was repeated until no more significant groupings appeared. Participants’ outputs and competencies are communicated and coordinated. The study identified 111 terminal nodes (leaves) organized into six main categories and three hierarchical levels. Those six categories, which emerged from the clustering process, are:

  • • Knowledge and Technical Skills: These are well-known techniques and knowledge that must be learned in particular or several disciplines.
  • • Transferable Competencies that can be Formalized: These are skills that can be incorporated into various clinical environments. Communication (oral and written), creativity management, and scientific monitoring are all core competencies in this group as well as project management, time management and planning, and languages.
  • • Transferable Competencies that cannot be Formalized: These are skills that can be applied to any field but are not typically acquired by formalized Ph.D. studies. Cognitive ability, problem-solving skills, and teamwork skills are all core competencies in this group.
  • • Dispositions: These are critical in defining one’s work attitudes and ethics, complementing the other competencies. Rigidity, critical thought, imagination, and autonomy are the central competencies in this group.
  • • Behaviors: These competencies provide what are known as “soft skills,” such as social and interpersonal abilities. Perseverance is the category’s main competency, but it also involves empathy and diplomacy.
  • • Meta-competencies: Meta-competencies are important for sustaining and increasing one’s pool of competencies over time and allowing efficient use of other competencies in professional settings. In this category, a Ph.D.’s main metacompetency is adaptability.

The competency system strikes the right balance between structure and versatility. According to Durette et al. (2016) , it is prescriptive because it identifies shared goals and principles, thus assisting in developing appropriate instructional practices. The tool was initially designed to evaluate the competencies of French academics.

Data Collection Procedure for Themes Identification

Observation and recording are the data collection strategies used. The descriptive analysis technique is used to identify and analyze the academic cultural themes in TBBT’s data. Every episode from Seasons 1 through 12 were hand-picked for examination. In Manganello et al. (2008) , seven episodes from a TV season were needed to produce character-based findings, however, this research is significantly more thorough and organized than this advice, more similar to Ye and Ward (2010) . TBBT was chosen because it is the only existing TV show that depicts researchers’ character. In comparison to a movie, a TV series has more complex content that viewers can analyze, which is why the sitcom is preferred over a movie. The investigator reviewed each important scene many times. After watching the full episode, the researcher took notes on which individual interactions satisfied the evidentiary competencies in the framework. The researcher transcribed the dialog during the second screening. After the final view, the researcher recorded any subtle verbal intonation and any non-verbal images. To code and match key interactions, competencies in each cluster were used.

Content and Thematic Analysis of TBBT

This study utilized a qualitative content analysis research approach and analyzed data using an adapted procedure of Fraenkel and Wallen (2009) and Lacko (2011) . In a recent research, content analysis was used to evaluate website content ( Lasekan et al., 2020 ). The first step in conducting a content analysis is establishing research objectives. The researcher’s primary objective in this study was to portray characters in TBBT as competent researchers through the use of Durette et al. (2016) Ph.D. competencies as a checklist for identifying academic cultural themes. The central unit of investigation is the analysis of the characters’ interactions. The interaction must have lasted at least 5 seconds to qualify as critical and should be critical for the story’s advancement. The significance assessments are based on analysis units’ rationale of Ye and Ward (2010) . The data analysis techniques used in this study were manifest and latent content analysis. It is combined with qualitative theme analysis elements. In other words, to categorize components of an established communication measure (the Common Ground Instrument; Lacko, 2011 ), the researcher began with content analysis and then moved on to thematic analysis in order to examine entire themes and ideas. The description of the analysis is included below.

Manifest Content Analysis – It refers to “that which is specifically articulated” ( Clarke and Binns, 2006 , p. 41) or “those physically present and countable elements” ( Clarke and Binns, 2006 , p. 41). This particular application of the deductive principle has two advantages ( Lacko, 2011 ). To begin, the manifest content analysis assesses unstructured data in accordance with Berg (1989) and Krippendorf (1980) . As a result, analyzing the manifest content of these experiences produces a more exhaustive list of themes than evaluating them using a standardized instrument. Finally, content analysis can be used to explain the content patterns of communication ( Berelson, 1952 ).

Latent Content Analysis – It refers to a text’s “underlying and implied context” ( Neuman, 2000 , p. 296). Clarke and Binns (2006) define latent analysis as an inductive method of reasoning, which means that comprehension is derived from data rather than from preconceived theories ( Krueger and Casey, 2000 ). This induction enables researchers to identify previously unknown themes or factors that they would not have discovered if they had preconceived ideas about what to look for Lacko (2011) .

Using the framework of Durette et al. (2016) , explicit categories for show analysis were developed in this study. This entails interpreting and connecting with adapted evidential competencies. This is followed by the categorization of manifest and latent themes according to the length of the video clips that correspond to the episodes.

Thematic Analysis in Qualitative Research

Along with the analysis of manifest and latent content, this study incorporated elements of a qualitative theme analysis. This is aimed at using a more robust and rigorous form of qualitative analytical methods to assess a television show. While using a second rater helps provide credibility to a thematic analysis, adopting a single coding technique is also acceptable and reliable if the coder is knowledgeable about the subject ( Campbell et al., 2013 ). The investigator’s knowledge is based on the fact that he has followed every episode of the series for the past 12 years. However, as a lone researcher, several steps were taken to strengthen the reliability of the analysis. This includes sharing with fellow academics who are strong followers of TBBT about the coding and analysis as the investigator progressed through them. This concept, called “member checking,” involves sharing coded field note excerpts and discussing any “doubt and dilemmas” about coding and analysis generating peer support. This helps in reconciling views regarding the rating of themes categories in progress ( Burant et al., 2007 ). Discussion provides an opportunity to articulate internal thinking processes and presents windows of opportunity for clarifying emergent ideas and possibly making new insights about the data.

Integration of Video Clips

English for academic conversation.

This is an 8-week course. Each class lasts 90 minutes; each week, the class discusses various topics that correspond to identified academic cultural themes in TBBT. The course was developed in response to a need to strengthen students’ research capacity, academic job prospects, international mobility, and scientific productivity, all of which are anchored on the oral dissemination of academic knowledge in English. Thus, the course’s primary objective is to provide an environment in which students can discuss and converse in English about their research topic and experience and practice their English conversation skills by discussing issues relevant to researchers’ lives. The process entails facilitating each topic by setting the stage for an in-depth discussion. The objective is to develop an understanding of academic culture that will aid them in achieving their academic career goals.

With respect to the selection of video corresponding to a theme, as previously stated, EAC is an 8-week online course. Altogether, data from six class meetings are available for this study. The selected videos cover a range of topics, including focusing skill in the Dispositions cluster, research funding and public speaking in the Transferable Competencies that can be Formalized cluster, teaching and research ability in the Knowledge and Technical Skills cluster, and overthinking in the Transferable Competencies that cannot be Formalized cluster. Each class begins with a task that serves as a pre-discussion (10–15 min). The topic is introduced to the students at this point. Through question and answer, the instructor and students negotiate the theme’s vocabulary. After that, the video clip corresponding to the theme is played to provide context and background information, which are critical for facilitating discussion. Many of the clips are between 3 and 5 min long. Because the comprehensibility of the video clip is critical for the discussion, and some students have limited level of English listening skills, students are shown video clips that have been dubbed in Spanish.

Facilitation of Academic Conversation

The adoption of discussion stems from the importance of stimulating interlocutors’ thinking, comprehension, and reflection. This type of pair or group discussion is possible when each participant possesses information, experience, and knowledge that others lack ( Rees, 2005 ). As a result, an interlocutor using the functional language must bridge an information, experience, and knowledge gap. To close this gap, a prompt is used as a task-based activity to facilitate the discussion. The task-based activity, also known as a QPL, is used in the medical field to facilitate communication between patients and physicians and to encourage active participation in physician-patient discussions ( Eggly et al., 2013 ). The prompts (included in Supplementary Appendix Table B ) are designed to elicit knowledge, information, prior experience, and the development of objectives related to the theme. The procedure begins with the distribution of a list of Question prompts to a pair of students for discussion. Breakout classrooms on Zoom were used to facilitate this online discussion. They are online classrooms that are used to create spaces for small groups of learners to “meet,” work, and collaborate ( Kohnke and Moorhouse, 2020 ). The students were instructed on the activity’s significance to express their opinions and thus achieve the desired learning outcome. Throughout the discussion, the instructor rotates between classrooms, spending 4–5 min to observe and assist students who are having difficulty with English vocabulary to establish effective English communication. As a result, the instructor enters the room with the camera turned off and the microphone set to mute in order to avoid any unnecessary interruption or intervention.

Self-Reflective Task

During the final section of the session, students are required to reflect on their self-awareness, personal experience, and personal plan objectives as a result of the immediate discussion. The purpose of this task is to determine the discussion’s learning outcomes. This process began upon the students’ return from the breakout classrooms to the main session classroom. Students are then asked to share what they’ve learned in class, including other partners’ new information, knowledge, and perspectives, as well as comments on their oral fluency and future action and intervention on the theme.

Impact Assessment

Participants in the study.

This study included eight participants. They all enrolled in EAC. They are all postgraduate students from a variety of faculties, including pure sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Their ages range from 26 to 35. While five are pursuing doctoral degrees, three are pursuing master’s degrees with a research major. Each is in a different stage of their postgraduate studies. They are native Spanish speakers with an intermediate level of English and they aspire to pursue academic careers in the future.

Data Collection and Analysis Procedure

A phenomenological qualitative approach was used to add substantive depth to the body of knowledge on this subject. This approach gather data from individuals who have direct experience with the phenomena under investigation ( Patton, 2015 ). This study collected data using methods commonly used in observational research and qualitative research, such as interviews. The qualitative design method was chosen to examine the effect of video clips-based academic discussion on students’ academic cultural competence. The impact assessment is conducted in two stages: the first stage assesses the impact of each session on learners’ Ph.D. competence acquisition. The second stage is to ascertain the learners’ attitudes toward the EAC course and TBBT show. Acquiring Ph.D. competence is predicated on the tenet of good competence evidence ( Lynch and Clinton, 2020 ). This is the capacity of a learner to construct knowledge about a competence, connect his or her experience to the competence, and then express future action and intervention plans using reflection. Two researchers independently analyzed the six session recordings (with topics of focusing, overthinking, research funding, teaching, research skill, and public speaking). Separate files containing recordings and transcriptions were created for each of these themes. The researchers then coded the transcriptions and met to discuss their notes and observations. Responses to QPL are coded according to three categories: knowledge, experience, and future action/intervention plan. Each code is operationally defined and was refined and agreed upon prior to analyzing the recordings by both raters. While one of the raters is an expert at incorporating reflection principles into the classroom, the other is inexperienced. A measure of agreement was used to determine the reliability of each pair of raters for each reflection element ( Plack et al., 2005 ). Percent agreement is one of the most straightforward and intuitive measures of inter-rater reliability. The level of agreement between the raters was determined using Kappa’s statistic value of agreement, which ranges from zero (no agreement) to greater than 90% (almost perfect agreement) ( McHugh, 2012 ). Only simple agreements with 80% and above were considered in this study. For instance, raters were asked to indicate their level of agreement with the definition of self-knowledge, past experience and action plan as described by Lin and Jain (2018) . Self-knowledge is the capacity to identify and explore one’s own assumptions, values, and beliefs. Past experience is defined as the ability of the participants to relate the concept or skill to a recall past event or incident in which they learn from. The ability to describe the strategies used to sustain and acquire the skill and acknowledge and begin working with the feelings associated with the skill and improve understanding of one’s knowledge regarding the skill is referred to as an action or intervention plan.

The researcher served as an interviewer, observer, data processor, recorder, and analyzer for the participants in this second stage of the impact assessment analysis by evaluating their perception of the course. Ethical issues were a top priority throughout the study. The researcher informed participants that their participation was entirely voluntary and confidential. To protect confidentiality and privacy, proper precautions were taken during data collection and analysis. Prior to the research study, participants were informed about the study’s components, what their participation would entail, and given the option to participate. To understand abstract cognition phenomena, qualitative studies should be conducted in a natural environment ( Creswell, 2014 ). Thus, the participants’ observations were conducted during regular class time by video recording the whole class. At the end of the course in 2020, all eight participants were recruited for interviews. The combination of participant interviews and observation enabled depth and inferences that would not have been possible with a single data collection process ( Patton, 2015 ). The interview section focuses on general reactions to the video clips and the class. Several questions address the effect of video clips on academic discussion, the relevance of the video to the given topic, understanding how Ph.D. competencies are acquired after watching the clips, and how it motivates them to join academia in the future. Other questions include their desire to watch the show after completing the course and their suggestions for improving the course. The information gathered from the video recording for class observation was transcribed. As a result, the researcher has data that includes interview transcripts and class responses. This data was analyzed by coding it, finding patterns in it, categorizing the patterns, and finally developing a method for categorizing it ( Patton, 2015 ). Before categorizing the data, it was analyzed and compared using the constant comparative approach. These categories were used to create and apply patterns to help answer research questions. Direct quotes and interview details were included in the findings report to add insight and clarification to the study results.

TBBT Content Analysis

The first research question sought to identify academic cultural themes in TBBT. Themes that corresponded to the 111 Ph.D. competencies developed by Durette et al. (2016) were identified using content and thematic analysis. Out of 111 Ph.D. competencies, thirty-four skills that spread across the clusters of the Ph.D. competencies framework were identified. Supplementary Appendix Table A contains the complete version of the identified themes along with the corresponding Ph.D. competencies. The following are explanations for these themes.

Knowledge and Technical Skills

This competency cluster is known as techniques and knowledge that one develops in one or more disciplines. In other words, it can be both monodisciplinary and multidisciplinary.

Monodisciplinary

By revealing the characters’ accomplishments, TBBT portrayed all of the scientists in the show as top experts in their field. Sheldon, the main character, is a theoretical physicist who received a grant to study String Theory at the North Pole (S2, E23) and went on to win a Nobel Prize (S12, E24). Leonard is an experimental physicist who won a grant to visit the CERN supercollider in Switzerland (S3, E15) and work with Stephen Hawkings (S6, E24). Raj, an astrophysicist, is portrayed as the best in his field when he is named one of People magazine’s “30 under 30 to watch” (S2, E4). Howard has a Master’s degree in Engineering and his most notable accomplishment was building a Wolowitz zero-gravity waste disposal system for NASA before becoming an astronaut (S5, E24). Amy’s character is described as a highly accomplished neuroscientist who received a grant from an Arabic philanthropist to fund her lab (S4, E15), won a summer research fellowship at Princeton University (S10, E23), and eventually won the Nobel Prize with Sheldon Cooper (S12, E24). Bernadette obtained a Ph.D. in microbiology and a lucrative position in a pharmaceutical company. She announced in S12, E13 that the FDA had approved the drug she had manufactured.

Pluridisciplinary

This is clearly demonstrated in S4, E20, when physicist, Sheldon and neurobiologist, Amy, spread a rumor to test meme theory. The fact that this is a social science concept outside their area of expertise demonstrates their pluridisciplinary skill and knowledge as a researcher.

The show’s theme of teaching is very profound. The importance of teaching in academics is highlighted (S4, E14) when Sheldon’s students rated him poorly in terms of teaching. This is followed by various suggestions and exercises on how to improve his teaching ability from his friends. Sheldon’s poor teaching skill was once again demonstrated when he was unable to teach physics to Penny (S3, E10). Also a Master’s degree holder’s (Wolowitz) ability to teach a class assigned to a doctorate holder (Sheldon) is revealed in S8, E2.

Publication of Research Findings

This is yet another important academic theme in TBBT. Amy informs Sheldon of her publication in the prestigious Neuron Journal (S5, E12). Sheldon criticizes the work of his superior. He describes him as having written a series of popular books in which he reduced science’s great concepts to a series of anecdotes (S1, E4). Sheldon has an authorship dispute with Ramona, a postgraduate student, who helps him to focus on the research task (S2, E6). Sheldon and Leonard publish a paper based on Leonard’s idea, which is widely accepted with the exception of some insulting comments from one internet troll (S8, E14). Finally, Leonard and Sheldon were racing to publish their Superfluid Helium theory before the Swedish scientists publish their own findings (S9, E6).

Transferable Competencies That Can Be Formalized

These are competencies that can be applied in professional contexts and learned through courses. Knowledge of the academic and industrial environments, professional conduct, communication skills, innovation management, languages, commercial skills, and administration management are all skills in this cluster.

Academic and Industrial Setting

In terms of academic knowledge, images in several scenes of the show depict a typical academic environment. The most common image in the show is of a laboratory. Leonard’s (S6, E5), Howard’s (S5, E16), and Amy’s laboratories (S5, E16) were all shown. Several scenes, such as the scientists’ offices, appear frequently in the show. Sheldon works as a theoretical physicist in an office with a whiteboard. The position of Raj as an astrophysicist was also revealed. The cafeteria is also frequently depicted in the show. It is a place where the characters have lunch, interact and discuss their research. Several campus events are shown, including science bowl (S1, E13), an award ceremony for Sheldon (S3, E18), a parking space issue on campus (S6, E9), and the tradition of showing new staff around campus on their first day (S1, E12). This exemplifies how the sitcom depicts a typical academic setting. Bernadette’s workplace can be used to describe a typical industrial setting. Her presence in both the lab and the office and her working relationship with Penny (S12, E17) sheds light on the life of a researcher in industry.

Professional Conduct

Several scenes demonstrate how to follow certain rules and regulations in academic settings. Firstly, Sheldon’s published work was retracted due to false data (S7, E10). This happened when his colleague informed Sheldon that the data provided to him at the North Pole was incorrect. Sheldon was also warned by human resources after using sexist language against his assistant (S6, E12). Also keeping the NASA project classified (S2, E22), and engaging in the unethical practice of purchasing helium on the black market for research purposes (S9, E6). In terms of safety, the scientists are shown using a portable safety shield in their respective labs throughout the sitcom.

Academic Communication Skill

There is a focus on the show’s word choice. In S4, E5, Sheldon and Amy are aware of the academic vocabulary they use in their normal conversation, possibly to demonstrate the academic English vocabulary commonly used by academics. Amy used the word “mellifluous” while Sheldon used the word “cornucopia”. Also, numerous suggestions on how to overcome fear of public speaking were given to Sheldon in S3,E8.

Information Technology Skill

Sheldon is portrayed as a character who is knowledgeable about information technology (IT). In S1, E16, while purchasing a gift in a store, he was preoccupied with advising and assisting other customers in selecting the appropriate computer accessories.

Innovation Management Skill

Research valorization is a management skill that entails using research results funded by the public for socioeconomic purposes ( Bozeman, 2000 ). This theme is expressed in S4, E15 by emphasizing the importance of public and private donors’ contributions to research. The entire episode revolves around a research fundraising dinner, at which all of the invited scientists are expected to present their current work in order to secure funding. The audience also sees the university’s collaboration with several government agencies. Howard, for example, completes a NASA project (S5, E5) and works with Leonard and Sheldon to complete an airforce project for the United States military (S10, E2).

Project Management Ability

Learning how to manage a project is also important. In. S10, E3, Sheldon, Leonard, and Howard are assigned a task and given 2 months to complete it. They recognize the value of time management by devoting extra hours to the project. As a team leader, Howard effectively coordinates project management by requiring Sheldon to complete his portion of the task when they realize that completing the job in 2 months is not feasible. They report to the air force representative, who eventually extends their deadline of submission.

The Big Bang Theory demonstrates the characters’ enthusiasm for learning languages. Howards is seen teaching Sheldon Mandarin in S1, E17. This is also revealed when the male characters speak Klingon (S2, E1; S2, E7). This is due to their enthusiasm for Star Trek.

Commercial Skill

The characters are portrayed as more than just excellent scientists. They are also portrayed as characters who are well-versed in business and money management. Sheldon claims that he only spends 46.9% of his income and save the rest, which explains why he has enough money to loan Penny (S2, E14). In the S8, E4, Leonard suggests the idea of investing in Stuart’s comic book store and strategize how to compete with their rivals. In S9, E16, we learn how a scientist can commercialize their patent. For example, Howard decides to create a guidance system that can be patented.

Administrative Management

The show revealed how Sheldon had to hire an administrative assistant to demonstrate that administrative duties are also part of academic work (S6, E3).

Academic Categorization

The show provides insight into an academic hierarchical structure. When Sheldon, Raj, and Leonard compete for a tenured position in an American context, the audience understands the concept of “tenure” (S6, E20). Sheldon’s tenure track was revealed when he was promoted to the level of Junior Professor (S8, E2).

Imposter Syndrome

This is a psychological mindset that occurs when an individual believes their success is undeserved. That is, he or she is afraid of being exposed as a con artist ( Hawley, 2019 ). Amy rants at Pemberton and Campbell, claiming that they are impostors and frauds, and that she and Sheldon are suffering from “imposter syndrome” (S12, E18).

Transferable Skills That Cannot Be Formalized

They are competencies that can be applied in a professional setting but cannot be learned in a classroom setting. This includes lateral thinking, cognitive ability, collaborative skill, and leadership skill.

Lateral Thinking

It is used when the Howard space toilet fails (S2, E22). Sheldon is portrayed in the show as a character with lateral thinking skill. For example, it is very impressive in the way Sheldon recites the game of chance known as Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, and Spock (S2, E8).

Cognitive Ability

Sheldon is aware of his superior cognitive ability. He believes he has an eidetic memory in S3, E5. In S4, E6, he demonstrated his long term memory by recalling a minute detail of an event. In terms of general knowledge, the character is also versatile in a variety of fields. He uses his chemistry knowledge to save Leonard’s life (S3, E22), and his bioluminescence knowledge to create a “Luminous Fish nightlight” (S1, E4). Furthermore, he used his geography knowledge to host his TV show, Fun with Flags (S1, E4). For innovation, Sheldon created his own game called research lab (S3, E7) and invented his own 3-player chess game (S4, E22).

Complex Problem Management

This is demonstrated when Sheldon and Penny collaborate to solve string theory (S11, E13). To be inspired, Sheldon solves a difficult physics question by focusing his mind on other tasks. The method has been shown to be effective. Thus, the process of solving a task-based problem without overthinking can be learned from Sheldon’s approach when he decided to work in a restaurant to solve the research problem (S3, E14).

Teamwork Skill

The importance of teamwork is demonstrated in the annual physics bowl competition (S1, E13). Sheldon is to be blamed for his team’s defeat in the competition because he refused to collaborate with his teammates.

Collaboration

It is a common theme in the show. Sheldon is seen at the North Pole working with other characters (S2, E23). Raj worked for Sheldon (S3, E4), Leonard, Howard, and Sheldon collaborate to work on a military project (S10, E2), and Amy and Sheldon collaborate to determine the exact time when the wave function collapses (S10, E19).

Leonard’s ability to lead is critical because he is the glue that holds the characters in the show together. He was given the task of distributing funds in the show (S12, E7). He demonstrated his ability to delegate by directing his friends to search for Sheldon after he was reported missing (S7, E1). Throughout the show, Dr. Siebert, the president of Cal Tech, is also seen in a leadership role.

Only seven of the thirty-four competencies listed by Durette et al. (2016) were identified under this cluster. Curiosity is one of the critical competencies. This is demonstrated by how the scientists searched for crickets in order to determine their species (S3, E2). The ability to dream is the second skill. Sheldon is always hopeful that one of his works will be awarded a Nobel Prize. He once told his friends that he would not invite them to his acceptance speech (S3, E1). Another popular topic is hygiene . Sheldon demonstrates a sense of hygiene several times throughout the show, including using a baby wipe before eating (S2, E4) and Purell after touching a snake (S5, E7), as well as giving sanitizer to his friends before entering his house (S5, E7). Every character in the show displayed a sense of humor . Sheldon demonstrates punctuality when he and other characters plan to see a movie. He insisted that they leave for the cinema sooner (S4, E8). Another competency in this cluster is service orientation . The university assigned Leonard, Sheldon, and Howard a social responsibility project. They choose to carry out an intervention task by encouraging young female high school students to pursue careers in science (S6, E18). All of the characters in the show demonstrate tolerance . Sheldon acknowledges the longstanding patience of his friends in the last episode of the show (S12, E24).

Disposition

One of the competencies in this cluster is the focusing skill. In S8, E5, the scientists intended to innovate over the weekend, but they were unable to focus. They devise various strategies to aid concentration. Raj expresses one of a researcher’s key competencies in S4, E22. He claims to have an observation skill. “We are scientists, we observe everything,” he explained. Another skill is originality . Sheldon always points out that Leonard’s research is based on someone else’s work (S3, E10). Accuracy is an additional skill. Scientists debate the scientific accuracy of events; in the Superman film, they argue about the speed at which Superman decelerates to save Lois Lane (S1, E2). Sheldon demonstrates persuasive skill when he begs Howard to show his article to Stephen Hawking (S5, E21).

Meta-Competencies

These are the skills to adapt one’s pool of competencies to various professional situations and contexts. Adaptability -Sheldon demonstrates how they adapt to all of the changes in his life. Firstly, Leonard and Penny’s engagement announcement distorts his attachment to his best friend; Secondly, an accidental fire destroys his favorite comic book store; and lastly, the university requires him to switch from string theory research to inflationary cosmology (S7, E24). Nonetheless, beginning with S8, E2, Sheldon was seen adapting to these changes.

EAC Course Analysis

The study’s second objective is to investigate whether EAC can foster Ph.D. competencies acquisition in the classroom. This required determining the learners’ ability to acquire competencies, and then assessing their perception of the course. Six major themes were brought together, as can be seen in Table 1 . Assessment of Ph.D. competencies acquisition is done by evaluating the learners’ knowledge, past experience, and action plan addressing a theme. The results show that the learners obtained all the skills assessed (overthinking, research funding, teaching, public speaking, research skill, and focusing). All the students in each class presented evidence regarding knowledge, past experience, and action/intervention plan. Specifically, students gained complex management skills in an overthinking session, learned how to concentrate and manage procrastination in a focusing session, skills on becoming an effective teacher, and skills on how to communicate in a class. This signifies that incorporating thematic instruction in the EAC classroom fosters Ph.D. competencies of the students.

Assessment of Ph.D. competencies acquisition using selected academic themes with their corresponding Durette et al. (2016) Ph.D. competence.

To further establish EAC’s efficacy in developing the students’ skills, students’ perception toward the course was evaluated at the end of the course. The following positive attitudes expressed are as follows.

Discussion Facilitator

The vast majority of the interviewees commented on the benefits of the video. They all agree that the show provides a good background and context for every assigned topic of discussion. It also helps them to understand academics’ lives, and it motivates them to speak with their partner because they can relate to the video clips. As one interviewee said, “I improve my communication skills and learn how to talk about different areas of research with appropriate language.” Another interviewee said, “the video gives us an attractive perspective about the academic topic of discussion.”

Bridging of Gaps

All the students are from different areas of studies. The academic discussion helps them to bridge the gap of information, knowledge, and experiences. The information gap is filled during a research funding topic (third week). A doctoral student who possesses the national scholarship provides information to her partner on how to win the scholarship to complete his doctoral program. With respect to knowledge, some of the students share their knowledge based on their expertise in their respective fields. For example, during the topic of focusing , a psychologist expert offers suggestions on the best approach to concentrate. Regarding the experiential aspect, every topic of discussion is operationalized by students sharing their personal experiences. All these experiences range from personal and professional experience, and it is shared as a form of information or knowledge for others to learn. All these filled gaps then lead to a research network and collaboration. Students were seen sharing contacts for future research collaboration.

Fostering of Competencies

The acquisition of the Ph.D. competencies is a function of learners’ ability to express knowledge of the skills, past experience related to the skills, and willingness to continue to build their understanding of the competencies. Some participants appreciate the show’s video clips by establishing that the show is more than entertainment but reflects the life of academics. One participant commented, “because it allows me to connect with the everyday life of academics, and it also allows me to learn “in some way” about the vicissitudes of academia and research development. But, I don’t know if it’s the same in the social area. I think it is. Perhaps if it is similar to the way of seeing the world from the academic perspective.” The majority express their willingness to continue watching the show after the course is over. As one respondent indicated, “Yes, I would love to continue to watch because I really enjoy the story of the characters and how they improve their social skills.” Also Sheldon, being the main character of the show, is used to express competencies they have acquired in the course. It is interesting to know that the students can identify the character’s weakness and strength in term of competencies they are supposed to acquire. As one interviewee said “ I think Sheldon needs to improve his social skills, but he really gets better at it in the final seasons of the show. Also, he is really smart, but not good at communicating the knowledge to others, and that is not helpful for a young scientist.”

Constraints and Feedback

A significant number of the participants expressed the drawbacks of the course. A comment on the time management says “ More time to speak about our ideas and a break at mid-class .” There is also a comment on giving complete feedback during a discussion. One interviewee says “From time to time, make suggestions on how to put together the ideas one is expressing. Say the complete sentence” Another comment is based on the preference of the authentic video as a comprehensible input “ I would like to suggest that the episodes of TTBT should be in English and not in Spanish, so we can actually listen to the phrases that the characters use.”

Language Focus

The students believe that the course does not only develop academic cultural competencies, but also has a positive impact on their English speaking ability in different ways. Some believe the conversation will help them in the future when they need to make a presentation in English, one person noting “ I learnt words and academic phrases and skills to make an academic presentation.” Some believe it is good for their fluency “ This course always involve talking, and that increased my understanding as I could read the context, and also helped me to increase my fluency. ” Some participants make a case for research vocabulary, such as “I improved my communication skills, and learned how to talk about different areas of research with appropriate language.”

The purpose of this study was to identify academic themes in TBBT by using Durette et al.’s (2016) Ph.D. reference framework and also, adopting selected identified themes to develop postgraduate students’ Ph.D. competencies.

To address research question 1, the Durette et al. (2016) competency framework is used to identify academic cultural themes in TBBT. All the identified themes are represented in all six clusters of the competency framework. Thus, the usage of the sitcom as a teaching and reflective tool for developing Ph.D. competencies is valid and justified because it demonstrates all the personal and professional competencies in the reference framework. The show also allows the researcher to improve the framework by updating it with competencies such as teaching, impostor syndrome, categorization in academia, and scientific productivity through research publication. All these new competencies address issues that are germane to the new generation of scientists in academia. The positive result is in line with previous studies on TV show’s role as a medium to portray society’s reality. A previous study has focused on teacher representation in movies ( Ryan and Townsend, 2010 ), and this study extends that to a television series.

To address research question 2, a few identified academic cultural themes in TBBT were selected and used to facilitate an EAC course to foster Ph.D. competence. The goal is to test the model of thematic instruction’s efficacy driven by the selected video clips of academic cultural themes from TBBT. The acquisition of the competencies is assessed based on learners’ ability to express knowledge, past experience, and action plans created during and after the course. The results demonstrated that all the skills considered in the course were acquired. In addition, the result shows that the students have positive attitudes toward the course methodology and the sitcom by expressing how the course helps them to be aware of academic cultural competencies and their intention to continue watching TBBT show for entertainment and academic purposes. These findings support the effectiveness of the adopted EAC, which is based on thematic instructions driven by video clips in the TBBT. This confirms the relevance of pop culture’s role in stimulating emotions and providing the context needed for reflection to facilitate effective thematic learning ( Blasco et al., 2015 ).

Another important finding was the efficacy of the EAC course in facilitating the integration of critical thematic video clips for reflective discussion in order to develop learners’ Ph.D. competencies. This can be attributed to the study’s use of a variety of theoretical concepts. First, thematic learning encourages students to take an active role in the classroom by contributing to knowledge construction, sharing experiences, and developing action/intervention plans related to the theme. This finding reaffirms the concept’s beneficial role in fostering an active, interesting, and meaningful learning environment ( Min et al., 2012 ). Second, the importance of dialogic learning argues for the use of discussion to facilitate reflection. It is predicated on the value of discussion to facilitate the exchange of ideas ( Haneda, 2017 ). This is demonstrated by the way students share and bridge gaps in their information, knowledge, and experience. Additionally, the integrated video clips assist in providing context for the discussion, ensuring that participants understand the context of the topic and can relate personally to it. The participants’ appreciated the show’s video clips, which they value because they can relate to the context depicted in the clips as scholars. This demonstrates the critical role of cognitive theory in multimedia learning ( Mayer and Moreno, 1998 ). Finally, reflective practice is used to assess competency acquisition. The evidence of acquisition occurred during the discussion and reflective session when all learners critically shared their personal knowledge, experience, and action plan related to a theme. This finding is consistent with published studies that used similar practices to foster professional competence ( Lalor et al., 2015 ), literacy competence ( McLean, 2017 ), and diagnostic competence ( Mamede et al., 2012 ).

The development of a teaching model for developing academic cultural competencies is critical to a strong doctoral education program. Prior research has highlighted challenges to fostering these competencies ( Niemczyk, 2018 ). This study’s findings show that the starting point for successful implementation of a competency-based doctoral program is to institutionalize and formalize all clusters of academic cultural competencies. This is evident in the positive impact of the EAC course on learners’ outcomes. The justification and adoption of an institutionalized approach is based on the need to have a global and common standard of doctoral education, which currently differs from one national curriculum to another ( Nerad and Heggelund, 2011 ) and varies in learning outcomes due to different modes of doctoral education, such as on-campus and distance modes ( Lindner et al., 2001 ). In addition, unlike the suggestion of movement of researchers through institutions/nations and encouraging graduate student mobility (conferences, student exchanges, seminars, and joint and exchange programs) as indicated in Niemczyk (2018) , this study has proffered a cost-effective doctoral-competency training approach. In sum, the findings in this study provide evidence that successful acquisition of Ph.D. competencies involve the use of reflective discussions ( Fischer and Zigmond, 1998 ).

The teaching model’s effectiveness and implementation in this study can be easily institutionalized in several contexts. This is because the adoption of the EAC course is based on the importance of English in academia in terms of productivity and knowledge dissemination. To that end, doctoral programs in countries where English is learned as a Foreign Language can adopt this teaching model to foster research communication in English and Ph.D. competencies. For example, all of the participants’ commented on their improved English oral fluency during the course. Based on English proficiency that might vary among the students, an instructor interested in implementing this teaching model might decide whether the authentic video clips in TBBT should be introduced in English or the learners’ native language. This is because comprehensible input is critical in the context of the competence that is being taught.

With respect to pedagogies in this model, identification of appropriate themes in pop culture to facilitate thematic instruction plays a key role in developing learners’ Ph.D. competency acquisition. The learners can construct each competency knowledge through discussion and acquire the competencies by reflecting on the conversation. This is in line with the recommendation of Niemczyk (2018) on the need to develop researchers’ competency through films and discussions in courses. The success of this model for learning outcomes can also be attributed to the active learning approach integrated into the course design. For example, all the students are actively and experientially involved in the learning process that fills in the information, knowledge, and experiential gaps. The successful bridging of these gaps leads to academic collaboration and networking among the students in the class. Lastly, considering the plethora of identified academic cultural themes with their corresponding competencies in the reference framework, it is nearly impossible to cover all the competencies in the EAC course. Thus, academic cultural competencies can be seen as lifelong learning. That is, a form of learning that learners perform throughout their lives to improve their knowledge, skills, and Ph.D. competencies for personal, societal, or employment-related motives and that occurs outside and after a doctoral program ( Field, 2001 ). Therefore, the TBBT academic cultural competency Supplementary Appendix Table A can be adopted for personal use. It can also serve as a guiding tool for all graduate programs that would like to implement EAC for the purpose of fostering certain Ph.D. competencies among their students.

Limitations and Conclusion

The findings in this report are subject to at least two limitations. Firstly, few participants are used to assess TBBT videos’ impacts on students’ competency acquisition. This limitation means that the findings need to be interpreted cautiously. The second limitation is that the TBBT academic cultural competencies Supplementary Appendix Table A does not demonstrate all the competencies in the disposition and behavior cluster. Thus, further work needs to be carried out in several contexts to identify more academic cultural themes depicted in TBBT. This can be used to promote philosophical reflections critical to fostering the academic cultural competencies of doctoral students in all higher educational institutions.

The current study’s main goal was to identify academic themes in TBBT using the Durette et al. (2016) Ph.D. reference framework and use the themes to foster doctoral students’ academic cultural competencies in EAC classes. One of the most significant findings is that the show depicts thirty-four competencies across the six clusters of the Durette et al. (2016) reference framework. Integrating several video clips into EAC reveals that the authentic video themes help foster postgraduate students’ academic cultural competencies, which are also known as Ph.D. competencies. This is a scholarly response to a call to create awareness about the academic cultural competencies lacking in many higher educational institutions ( Grivillers et al., 2010 ). One of the key suggestions includes developing researchers’ competencies through films and discussions in courses ( Niemczyk, 2018 ). As a result, this study sheds light on academics’ personal and professional characteristics in popular culture. Concerning research contribution, this research adopts a thematic learning model driven by authentic videos to facilitate and foster Ph.D. competencies. This study’s overall implication in higher education indicates that TBBT is an efficient reflective tool that can be used to develop doctoral students’ competencies in all doctoral training programs. At the individual level, the designed table of TBBT academic cultural competence can be used as a lifelong learning tool that can guide developing competencies among doctoral students, early-career researchers, and senior researchers.

Data Availability Statement

Ethics statement.

Ethical review and approval was not required for the study on human participants in accordance with the local legislation and institutional requirements. The patients/participants provided their written informed consent to participate in this study.

Author Contributions

The researcher conceived of the topic, developed the theory, collected the data, verified the analytical methods, and discussed the results and conclusion of the manuscript. The sole author contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

Supplementary Material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.699662/full#supplementary-material

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Home — Essay Samples — Science — Big Bang Theory — The Big Bang: Universe’s Birth

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The Big Bang: Universe's Birth

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Published: Jan 29, 2019

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Works Cited

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  • Planck Collaboration. (2018). Planck 2018 results. VI. Cosmological parameters. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 641, A6.
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big bang theory research paper conclusion

What is the Big Bang Theory?

The Big Bang Theory explains how the universe began.

graphic illustration of the big bang shows a large explosion from a bright point of light in the center.

The birth of the universe

  • Big Bang theory FAQs

Modelling the Big Bang

  • How old is the universe?

What are gravitational waves?

  • Expansion vs explosion

The expansion of the universe

Jwst and the big bang.

  • The "Big Bang Theory" TV show

Additional resources

The Big Bang Theory is the leading explanation for how the universe began. Simply put, it says the universe as we know it started with an infinitely hot and dense single point that inflated and stretched — first at unimaginable speeds, and then at a more measurable rate — over the next 13.7 billion years to the still-expanding cosmos that we know today.

Existing technology doesn't yet allow astronomers to literally peer back at the universe's birth, much of what we understand about the Big Bang comes from mathematical formulas and models. Astronomers can, however, see the "echo" of the expansion through a phenomenon known as the cosmic microwave background .

While the majority of the astronomical community accepts the theory, there are some theorists who have alternative explanations besides the Big Bang — such as eternal inflation or an oscillating universe.

Related: What happened before the Big Bang?

Around 13.7 billion years ago, everything in the entire universe was condensed in an infinitesimally small singularity, a point of infinite denseness and heat. 

Suddenly, an explosive expansion began, ballooning our universe outwards faster than the speed of light . This was a period of cosmic inflation that lasted mere fractions of a second — about 10^-32 of a second, according to physicist Alan Guth’s 1980 theory that changed the way we think about the Big Bang forever. 

When cosmic inflation came to a sudden and still-mysterious end, the more classic descriptions of the Big Bang took hold. A flood of matter and radiation, known as "reheating," began populating our universe with the stuff we know today: particles, atoms, the stuff that would become stars and galaxies and so on.

A star and and galaxy filled image with a box highlighting GN-z11, a young galaxy appearing as an irregularly shaped red

This all happened within just the first second after the universe began, when the temperature of everything was still insanely hot, at about 10 billion degrees Fahrenheit (5.5 billion Celsius), according to NASA . The cosmos now contained a vast array of fundamental particles such as neutrons, electrons and protons — the raw materials that would become the building blocks for everything that exists today.

This early "soup" would have been impossible to actually see because it couldn't hold visible light. "The free electrons would have caused light (photons) to scatter the way sunlight scatters from the water droplets in clouds," NASA stated. Over time, however, these free electrons met up with nuclei and created neutral atoms or atoms with equal positive and negative electric charges. 

This allowed light to finally shine through, about 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

Sometimes called the "afterglow" of the Big Bang, this light is more properly known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB). It was first predicted by Ralph Alpher and other scientists in 1948 but was found only by accident almost 20 years later .

Related: Peering back to the Big Bang & early universe

A oval shape filled with orange and blue patches representing CMB leftover from the Big Bang.

This accidental discovery happened when Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, both of Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey, were building a radio receiver in 1965 and picked up higher-than-expected temperatures, according to a NASA article . At first, they thought the anomaly was due to pigeons trying to roost inside the antenna and their waste, but they cleaned up the mess and killed the pigeons and the anomaly persisted.

Simultaneously, a Princeton University team led by Robert Dicke was trying to find evidence of the CMB and realized that Penzias and Wilson had stumbled upon it with their strange observations. The two groups each published papers in the Astrophysical Journal in 1965.

Big Bang theory FAQs answered by an expert

We asked Jason Steffens, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a few frequently asked questions about the Big Bang Theory. 

Jason Steffens is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Has the Big Bang Theory been proven?

This isn't really a statement that we can make in general. The best we can do is say that there is strong evidence for the Big Bang Theory and that every test we throw at it comes back in support of the theory. Mathematicians prove things, but scientists can only say that the evidence supports a theory with some degree of confidence that is always less than 100%.

So, a short answer to a slightly different question is that all of the observational evidence that we've gathered is consistent with the predictions of the Big Bang Theory. The three most important observations are:

1) The Hubble Law shows that distant objects are receding from us at a rate proportional to their distance — which occurs when there is uniform expansion in all directions. This implies a history where everything was closer together.

2) The properties of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB). This shows that the universe went through a transition from an ionized gas (a plasma) and a neutral gas. Such a transition implies a hot, dense early universe that cooled as it expanded. This transition happened after about 400,000 years following the Big Bang.

3) The relative abundances of light elements (He-4, He-3, Li-7, and Deuterium). These were formed during the era of Big Bang Nucleosynthesis (BBN) in the first few minutes after the Big Bang. Their abundances show that the universe was really hot and really dense in the past (as opposed to the conditions when the CMB was formed, which was just regular hot and dense — there's about a factor of a million difference in temperature between when BBN occurred and when the CMB occurred).

Is there any occurrence that contradicts the Big Bang Theory?

Not that I know of. There are some issues that arise with the simplest model of the Big Bang, but those can be resolved by invoking a physical process that is still consistent with the basic premise of the Big Bang Theory. Specifically, the fact that the CMB temperature is the same everywhere, that the universe does not appear to have any curvature, and that density fluctuations from quantum mechanical predictions do not produce galaxy clusters of the right size and shape today. These three issues are resolved with the theory of inflation — which is part of the broader Big Bang Theory.

When was the Big Bang Theory established?

Who came up with the idea?

Hubble was really the person who set up the observations. Evidence continued to mount, especially in the 1970s with the detection of the CMB. The term "Big Bang" was first used in the late 1940s by the astronomer Fred Hoyle — eventually, it caught on in the 1970s.

Because we can't see it directly, scientists have been trying to figure out how to "see" the Big Bang through other measures. In one case, cosmologists are pressing rewind to reach the first instant after the Big Bang by simulating 4,000 versions of the current universe on a massive supercomputer. 

"We are trying to do something like guessing a baby photo of our universe from the latest picture," study leader Masato Shirasaki, a cosmologist at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), told our sister website Live Science . 

With what is known about the universe today, the researchers in this 2021 study compared their understanding of how gravitational forces interacted in the primordial universe with their thousands of computer-modeled universes. If they could predict the starting conditions of their virtual universes, they hoped to be able to accurately predict what our own universe may have looked like back at the beginning. 

Other researchers have chosen different paths to interrogate our universe's beginnings. 

In a 2020 study, researchers did so by investigating the split between matter and antimatter. In the study, not yet peer-reviewed, they proposed that the imbalance in the amount of matter and antimatter in the universe is related to the universe's vast quantities of dark matter, an unknown substance that exerts influence over gravity and yet doesn't interact with light. They suggested that in the crucial moments immediately after the Big Bang, the universe may have been pushed to make more matter than its inverse, antimatter, which then could have led to the formation of dark matter .

The age of the universe

artists illustration of the Planck spacecraft against a background of orange and red gaseous filaments and a bright white line across the lower part of the image.

The CMB has been observed by many researchers now and with many spacecraft missions. One of the most famous space-faring missions to do so was NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, which mapped the sky in the 1990s.

Several other missions have followed in COBE's footsteps, such as the BOOMERanG experiment (Balloon Observations of Millimetric Extragalactic Radiation and Geophysics), NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and the European Space Agency's Planck satellite .

Planck's observations, first released in 2013, mapped the CMB in unprecedented detail and revealed that the universe was older than previously thought: 13.82 billion years old, rather than 13.7 billion years old. The research observatory's mission is ongoing and new maps of the CMB are released periodically.

Related: How old is the universe?

The maps give rise to new mysteries, however, such as why the Southern Hemisphere appears slightly redder (warmer) than the Northern Hemisphere. The Big Bang Theory says that the CMB would be mostly the same, no matter where you look.

Examining the CMB also gives astronomers clues as to the composition of the universe. Researchers think most of the cosmos is made up of matter and energy that cannot be "sensed" with our conventional instruments, leading to the names " dark matter " and " dark energy ." It is thought that only 5% of the universe is made up of matter such as planets, stars and galaxies .

While astronomers study the universe's beginnings through creative measures and mathematical simulations, they've also sought proof of its rapid inflation. They have done this by observing gravitational waves , tiny perturbations in space-time that ripple outwards from great disturbances like, for instance, two colliding black holes or the universe's birth.

According to leading theories, in the first second after the universe was born, our cosmos ballooned faster than the speed of light . (That, by the way, does not violate Albert Einstein's speed limit. He once said that light speed is the fastest anything can travel within the universe — but that statement did not apply to the inflation of the universe itself.)

As the universe expanded, it created the CMB and a similar "background noise" made up of gravitational waves that, like the CMB, were a sort of static, detectable from all parts of the sky. Those gravitational waves, according to the LIGO Scientific Collaboration , produced a theorized barely-detectable polarization, one type of which is called "B-modes."

In 2014, astronomers said they had found evidence of B-modes using an Antarctic telescope called "Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization," or BICEP2.

"We're very confident that the signal that we're seeing is real, and it's on the sky," lead researcher John Kovac, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told Space.com in March 2014.

But by June, the same team said that their findings could have been altered by galactic dust getting in the way of their field of view. That hypothesis was supported by new results from the Planck satellite.

By January 2015, researchers from both teams working together "confirmed that the Bicep signal was mostly, if not all, stardust," the New York Times said .

The evolution of the universe represented in this graphic illustration showing galaxies and planets progressively getting further apart from each other.

However, since then gravitational waves have not only been confirmed to exist, they have been observed multiple times. 

These waves, which are not B-modes from the birth of the universe but rather from more recent collisions of black holes, have been detected multiple times by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), with the first-ever gravitational wave detection taking place in 2016. 

A major gravitational wave breakthrough was announced on June 28, 2023 when teams of scientists around the world reported the discovery of a "low-pitch hum" of these cosmic ripples flowing through the Milky Way. While astronomers don't definitively know what's causing the hum, the detected signal is "compelling evidence" and consistent with theoretical expectations of gravitational waves emerging from copious pairs of "the most massive black holes in the entire universe" weighing as much as billions of  suns , said Stephen Taylor, a gravitational wave astrophysicist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee who co-led the research.

Read more: The gravitational wave background of the universe has been heard for the 1st time

Was the Big Bang an explosion?

Although the Big Bang is often described as an "explosion", that's a misleading image. In an explosion, fragments are flung out from a central point into a pre-existing space. If you were at the central point, you'd see all the fragments moving away from you at roughly the same speed. 

But the Big Bang wasn't like that. It was an expansion of space itself – a concept that comes out of Einstein's equations of general relativity but has no counterpart in the classical physics of everyday life. It means that all the distances in the universe are stretching out at the same rate. Any two galaxies separated by distance X are receding from each other at the same speed, while a galaxy at distance 2X recedes at twice that speed.

The universe is not only expanding, but expanding faster. This means that with time, nobody will be able to spot other galaxies from Earth or any other vantage point within our galaxy.

"We will see distant galaxies moving away from us, but their speed is increasing with time," Harvard University astronomer Avi Loeb said in a March 2014 Space.com article.

"So, if you wait long enough, eventually, a distant galaxy will reach the speed of light. What that means is that even light won't be able to bridge the gap that's being opened between that galaxy and us. There's no way for extraterrestrials on that galaxy to communicate with us, to send any signals that will reach us, once their galaxy is moving faster than light relative to us."

Related: 5 weird facts about seeing the universe's birth

— The 1st few seconds of the Big Bang: What we know and what we don't

— The universe: Big Bang to now in 10 easy steps

— Images: Black holes of the universe

Some physicists also suggest that the universe we experience is just one of many. In the " multiverse " model, different universes would coexist with each other like bubbles lying side by side. The theory suggests that in that first big push of inflation, different parts of space-time grew at different rates . This could have carved off different sections — different universes — with potentially different laws of physics.

Related: Best multiverse movies and TV shows: from Dr Strange to Dr Who

"It's hard to build models of inflation that don't lead to a multiverse," Alan Guth, a theoretical physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said during a news conference in March 2014 concerning the gravitational waves discovery. (Guth is not affiliated with that study.)

"It's not impossible, so I think there's still certainly research that needs to be done. But most models of inflation do lead to a multiverse, and evidence for inflation will be pushing us in the direction of taking [the idea of a] multiverse seriously."

While we can understand how the universe we see came to be, it's possible that the Big Bang was not the first inflationary period the universe experienced. Some scientists believe we live in a cosmos that goes through regular cycles of inflation and deflation, and that we just happen to be living in one of these phases.

Artist's illustration of James Webb Space Telescope in space, with a large sunshield and a bright light above and a planet below.

A telescope is almost like a time machine, allowing us to peer back into the distant past. With the aid of the Hubble space telescope, NASA has shown us galaxies as they were many billions of years ago — and Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope , has the ability to look even deeper into the past. 

NASA hopes it will see all the way back to when the first galaxies formed, nearly 13.6 billion years ago. And unlike Hubble, which sees mainly in the visible waveband , JWST is an infrared telescope — a big advantage when looking at very distant galaxies. The expansion of the universe means that waves emitted from them are stretched out, so light that was emitted at visible wavelengths actually reaches us in the infrared.

The Big Bang Theory: becoming a household name

From left, characters Howard, Leonard, Penny, Sheldon and Raj from the CBS show

The name "Big Bang Theory" has been a popular way to talk about the concept among astrophysicists for decades, but it hit the mainstream in 2007 when a comedy T.V. show with the same name premiered on CBS. 

Running for 279 episodes over 12 seasons, the show "The Big Bang Theory" followed the lives of a group of scientists, which included physicists, astrophysicists and aerospace engineers. The show explores the group's nerdy friendships, romances and squabbles. Its first season premiered on Sept. 24, 2007, and the show officially ended on May 16, 2019.

Although the show itself didn't dive too much into actual science, the showrunners did hire UCLA astrophysicist David Saltzberg as a science consultant for the entire run of the show, according to Science magazine . Science consultants are often hired for sci-fi and science-related shows and movies to help keep certain aspects realistic.

Thanks to Saltzberg, the characters' vocabulary included a host of science jargon and the whiteboards in the background of labs, offices and apartments throughout the show were filled with a variety of equations and information. 

Over the course of the show, Saltzberg said, those whiteboards became coveted space as researchers sent him new work that they hoped might be featured there. In one episode, Saltzberg recalled, new evidence of gravitational waves was scrawled across a whiteboard that ostensibly belonged to famed physicist Steven Hawking, who also approved the text.

Three people in astronaut suits smile for a photograph and all are giving a thumbs up gesture.

The show took some liberties , as it was fictional. This included fabricating some new scientific concepts and fictionalizing the politics of Nobel prizes and academia, according to Fermilab physicist Don Lincoln.

Related: How 'The Big Bang Theory' sent Howard Wolowitz to space

Notably, several characters in the series take trips. One episode sees main characters Leonard, Sheldon, Raj and Howard set out on a research expedition to the Arctic — many physics experiments are best performed at or near the extreme environments of the poles. Another put aerospace engineer Howard on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and, later, a model of the International Space Station along with real-life astronaut Mike Massimino .  

Discover more about CMB on NASA's webpage on putting the Big Bang theory to the test. NASA has also put together what the Big Bang might have looked it in this animation . Here are 5 quick facts about the Big Bang from How It Works magazine. 

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected].

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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, " Why Am I Taller ?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace

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big bang theory research paper conclusion

AT THE SMITHSONIAN

What astronomers are still discovering about the big bang theory.

A half-century after it was confirmed, the theory still yields new secrets

Claudia Dreifus

Claudia Dreifus

Big Bang

On a bright spring morning 50 years ago, two young astronomers at Bell Laboratories were tuning a 20-foot, horn-shaped antenna pointed toward the sky over New Jersey. Their goal was to measure the Milky Way galaxy, home to planet Earth.

To their puzzlement, Robert W. Wilson and Arno A. Penzias heard the insistent hiss of radio signals coming from every direction—and from beyond the Milky Way. It took a full year of testing, experimenting and calculating for them and another group of researchers at Princeton to explain the phenomenon: It was cosmic microwave background radiation, a residue of the primordial explosion of energy and matter that suddenly gave rise to the universe some 13.8 billion years ago. The scientists had found evidence that would confirm the Big Bang theory, first proposed by Georges Lemaître in 1931.

“Until then, some cosmologists believed that the universe was in a steady state without a singular beginning,” says Wilson, now 78 and a senior scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “The finding helped rule that out.”

That assessment seems a bit modest for a discovery that received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 and is now, on its semicentennial, celebrated as the Rosetta stone of modern cosmology, the key that has allowed generations of scientists to parse the origins of the universe.

Avi Loeb was a toddler on a farm in Israel when Wilson and Penzias began investigating those mysterious signals. Today, he’s a colleague of Wilson’s at the Center for Astrophysics and chair of Harvard’s astronomy department, and one of the world’s foremost researchers on what has been called the “cosmic dawn.” The theoretical physicist, now 52, has published more than 450 papers on aspects of the early universe, including the formation of stars and galaxies and the origins of the first black holes. He has done pioneering work on the three-dimensional mapping of the universe, and he has explored the implications of the impending collision between the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy (which will not happen, he adds, for several billion years).

Loeb recently made headlines with a paper submitted to the journal Astrobiology suggesting that just 15 million years after the Big Bang, the temperature from the cosmic background microwave radiation was 0 to 30 degrees Celsius—warm enough, he says, to allow “liquid water to exist on the surface of planets, if any existed,” without the warmth of a star. “So life in the universe could have started then.” By contrast, the earliest evidence of life on Earth is only 3.5 billion years old. Loeb’s proposition would add about ten billion years to the timeline of life in the universe.

“I’ve been trying to understand the beginning of the process before the Milky Way and its stars were formed,” he says. “It turns out that the first stars were more massive than the Sun and the first galaxies were smaller than the Milky Way.” This period is compelling, he says, because “it is the scientific version of the story of Genesis. I don’t want to offend religious people, but the first chapter of the Bible needs revising—the sequence of events needs to be modified. It is true that there was a beginning in time. As in the biblical story, ‘Let there be light.’ This light can be thought of as the cosmic microwave background.”

Loeb’s cherubic demeanor and puckish sense of humor play well on his YouTube videos , and Time and Popular Mechanics have cited his influence among space scientists. The title of his paper “How to Nurture Scientific Discoveries Despite Their Unpredictable Nature” reflects his appreciation of the accidental, such as the story behind the Wilson-Penzias discovery.

Recently, Wilson and Loeb have been working together on efforts to map the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. “I think Avi is a theorist who is very good at picking problems to work on that have testable results,” Wilson says.

As for the rigors of exploring deep time and places where no humans are likely ever to tread, Loeb says, “It’s kind of thrilling, like finding a trail in the woods that nobody has thought about. There’s a lot of loneliness. You have to get used to thinking about ideas.”

On Thursday, February 20 at 7:30, Wilson and Loeb will be joined in a panel discussion by cosmologist Alan Guth and astronomer Robert Kirshner at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics , in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the confirmation of the Big Bang Theory. Watch the discussion live on YouTube .

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Claudia Dreifus

Claudia Dreifus | | READ MORE

Author and educator Claudia Dreifus produces the feature "Conversation With. . ." in the New York Times . @claudiadreifus

Are scientific laws, theories, and terms capitalized?

The MLA follows The Chicago Manual of Style in recommending that scientific laws, theories, and terms be lowercased except when preceded by a proper adjective (ch. 8, sec. 148). We also consult Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary for spelling, which generally adheres to Chicago’s principle. The following provides examples:

Laws, Theories, and Terms with Proper Adjectives

Pythagorean theorem

Einstein’s general theory of relativity

Schrödinger’s equation

Fermat’s last theorem

Bayesisan statistics

Cartesian coordinate

Newton’s first law of motion

Mendel’s law

Avogadro’s number

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle

Euclidean algorithm 1

Laws, Theories, and Terms without Proper Adjectives

general theory of relativity

big bang theory

string theory

field theory

quantum theory

law of definite proportions

conservation of mass

binomial theorem

uncertainty principle

See also our related post on citing mathematical theories .

1 Merriam-Webster lowercases “euclidean” in “euclidean geometry” but also notes that the e in “euclidean” is “often capitalized” (“Euclidean Geometry”). Either form would be acceptable in MLA style.

Works Cited

The Chicago Manual of Style . U of Chicago P, 2021, www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html .

“Euclidean Geometry, N .”  Merriam-Webster , 2021, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/euclidean%20geometry .

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