Did you know that Leuven is the birthplace of the Big Bang Theory? Professor Georges Lemaître produced his cosmogonic hypothesis on the primaeval atom in 1931 and turned the world upside down. It rocked the world of science to its core.
That makes Leuven the perfect place for a city festival celebrating the cosmos and its origins. So, get ready, because KU[N]ST Leuven is organising a large-scale cultural city festival, where the astonishment of the cosmos will be explored from every angle.
Humankind has been fascinated with the origins of the cosmos and life and Earth – and beyond! – since time immemorial. And questions about it have spurred scientists to see if they can’t unravel those mysteries. At the same time, it has sparked the imagination of visual artists around the world, driving them to produce works that continue to touch us today. As a phenomenon, the Big Bang has also been a genuine source of inspiration for musicians, writers, and performing artists.
For a little over three months, BANG! will reveal the explosion of cultural beauty that the Big Bang has unleashed. From exhibitions and lectures to music, city walks, hands-on events, and audio and visual events – experience it all at BANG! The sensational impact of the Big Bang isn’t over yet, and BANG! city festival is proof.
Who is Georges Lemaître?
Georges Lemaître is the father of the Big Bang Theory and the founder of modern cosmology. And it’s about time that this celebrated – though still obscure to some – scientist be given a fitting introduction.
Georges Lemaître was born in Charleroi, Belgium, on 17 July 1894. After having fought on the Yser Front in the Great War, he went on to study physics and mathematics, followed by theology. He was ordained as a priest in 1923. In 1925, he was appointed a professor of KU Leuven (called the Catholic University of Leuven at the time), where he continued his cosmological research.
Lemaître spent much of the 1920s abroad. He worked in esteemed institutions such as Cambridge University in England and garnered his doctoral degree from the prestigious MIT in the United States. While in the U.S., he crossed paths with other prominent cosmologists and astronomers, such as Edwin Hubble. Inspired by the wealth of theories and insights he came across, he published his now-famous article in the journal Nature in 1931. What packed a punch was how Lemaître went against the prevailing scientific theories. In those days, everyone believed the universe to be static and that it had been that way forever. Lemaître, however, cleverly used Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to prove how the universe has been expanding since the dawn of time. That meant that once upon a time, the universe originated from a single primaeval atom. It was ‘day 0’ when time’s clock first began to tick, and space sprang into being. He dubbed it ‘the day without yesterday’.
For decades, Lemaître’s theory was heatedly contested; one of his peers even jokingly renamed it ‘The Big Bang Theory’. His insights remained largely overlooked throughout the twentieth century. It was only in the 1960s that his theory gained widespread acceptance, when slowly but surely his work was recognised for the pioneering feat it was. However, despite several nominations, he would never be awarded the Nobel Prize.
What may seem unusual for this and recent generations is that Georges Lemaître was also a priest. However, he was able to keep his perspectives as a priest and cosmologist strictly separate. He saw faith and science as two distinct worlds; trying to make the creation and the Big Bang mesh was never his objective. Today that might seem like a given, but back then – ninety years ago – it was a stretch. And yet, even the Vatican esteemed Georges Lemaître, electing him president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1960.
Georges Lemaître died on the 20th of June in Leuven, in 1966.