Scalar Fields, Dark Energy and Inflation
On large scales the universe is remarkably flat and homogeneous, and measurements of the cosmic
microwave background (CMB) show an almost scale invariant set of temperature fluctuations.
These phenomena can be explained within the paradigm of inflation, in which the universe
experiences a period of rapid expansion early in its development. To model this, one can use
a scalar field (the inflaton) dominated by its potential energy: as the field evolves, quantum fluctuations
are stretched beyond the causal horizon and become important later in the history of the universe
causing the perturbations in the CMB.
Observations show that the expansion of the universe has started to accelerate very recently (cosmologically speaking) and the scalar field mechanism can again be invoked to explain this. These are known as Quintessence models. This is an attractive dynamical alternative to models in which the dark energy candidate (that causes the acceleration) is the energy of the vacuum, called the cosmological constant. An important issue that needs to be addressed is the coincidence problem, why is this happening now and not earlier? Alternatively, why do we observe the energy densities of dark matter, dark energy and baryonic (normal) matter to be so similar when, in the model with a cosmological constant, they differed by many orders of magnitude for most of the universe's evolution?
My previous work linked dark energy and inflation, focusing on a model in which quintessence was present in the early universe as a subdominant field non-minimally coupled to the inflaton. We were able to study the modifications to slow-roll inflation and reheating, when the inflaton decays into radiation, using the observational constraints on the coupling between dark energy and dark matter.
Scalar Fields with Non-Canonical Kinetic Terms
I am currently working on models that use scalar fields with non-canonical kinetic terms to model the acceleration of the universe. In the context of inflation, this leads to interesting results due to the fact that the speed of sound of the perturbations is less than one, so in these models the predicted spectrum of fluctuations in the CMB is not completely Gaussian. With data from the next generation of experiments, this could be used to discriminate between models of inflation.
My current work is focused on an inflationary model of this type with a non-minimal coupling to gravity but as well as this I am also interested in other aspects of the physics of scalar fields with non-canonical kinetic terms. I am working to understand of the behaviour of adiabatic and entropic (non-adiabatic) curvature modes in inflationary systems and I am also studying models with mixed kinetic terms in the context of dark energy. I am particularly interested in the mechanism of reheating in these models, which is not well understood at present.