The start of the Universe may have been more like water freezing into ice than the popular conception of a Big Bang, say theoretical physicists from the University of Melbourne and RMIT University. They have a new hypothesis (conjecture?) which suggests that the secret to understanding the early universe is in the cracks and crevices common to all crystals, including ice.

Lead researcher on the project James Quach said their current ideas are the latest in a long quest by humans to understand the origins and nature of the Universe.

"Ancient Greek philosophers wondered what matter was made of: was it made of a continuous substance or was it made of individual atoms?" Quach said. "With very powerful microscopes, we now know that matter is made of atoms. Thousands of years later, Albert Einstein assumed that space and time were continuous and flowed smoothly, but we now believe that this assumption may not be valid at very small scales.

"A new theory, known as Quantum Graphity, suggests that space may be made up of indivisible building blocks, like tiny atoms.  These indivisible blocks can be thought about as similar to pixels that make up an image on a screen. The challenge has been that these building blocks of space are very small, and so impossible to see directly."

Let's not jump to that 'theory' word just yet, Dr. Quach. 

They believe they may have figured out a way to see these 'building blocks' indirectly. "Think of the early universe as being like a liquid. Then as the universe cools, it 'crystallises' into the three spatial and one time dimension that we see today. Theorised this way, as the Universe cools, we would expect that cracks should form, similar to the way cracks are formed when water freezes into ice."

RMIT University research team member Associate Professor Andrew Greentree said some of these defects might be visible. "Light and other particles would bend or reflect off such defects, and therefore in theory we should be able to detect these effects."

The team has calculated some of these effects and if their predictions are experimentally verified, the question as to whether space is smooth or constructed out of tiny indivisible parts will be solved once and for all.

Published in Physical Review D.