CHAPEL HILL, NC – According to a new paper by Dr. Adrienne L. Erickcek, a UNC Assistant Professor of Physics, the semester, if understood through mathematical models applied to the fabric of spacetime, has really “really flown by, wow, just like that it’s over.”
“When you look at it from a mathematical perspective, time is just another dimension we can travel through,” says Erickcek, “and that’s why as soon as Fall break hits the semester is over before you know it.”
The phenomenon that arises is similar to that of time dilation, the slowing down of inertial frames of reference when localized spacetime is deformed by high mass-energy density. Time dilation explains why summer breaks feel drawn out but leaves the feeling of the semester “always flying by” unexplained.
In her new paper, Erickcek asked how dark energy, which makes up roughly 75% of the universe’s mass-energy density, would affect the dimension of time. By applying the mathematics of quantum field theory to the calculations of dark energy evolution over time, Erickcek was able to tease out a new theoretical approach to dark energy’s influence – time contraction.
“This was very exciting,” Erickcek said. “Once I realized this other way of looking at dark energy, the math that popped out showed me why it feels like this semester has gone by even faster than the last one, right? This one has gone really fast. It was just yesterday we were getting syllabi. Jeez.”
Erickcek said, however, that her work is still purely theoretical.
“The real test will come when we use the Planck Space Telescope to detect and analyze the faint afterglow of primordial semesters,” said Erickcek, quickly adding that this will “probably have to happen sometime next semester.”