Our quest to understand the origin, evolution and make-up of the Universe has undergone dramatic and surprising advances over the last decades. Much of the progress has been driven by measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation, the fossil light from the big bang, that provide a glimpse of the Universe as it was 14 billion years ago.

By studying tiny variations in the background radiation, cosmologists have been able to test theories of the origin and evolution of the Universe, as well as determine that ordinary matter (the stuff that makes up stars and humans alike) accounts for a mere 4% of the density of the Universe, that the mysterious dark matter accounts for six times that amount, and that a still-elusive and poorly understood "dark energy" is required to make up the remaining 70% of the Universe.

After reviewing how we have arrived at such startling conclusions, Professor John Carlstrom of the University of Chicago, focuses on new observations being carried out at the coldest and driest desert on the planet, the high Antarctic plateau, with the 10-meter South Pole Telescope.

This event was part of the annual Bethe Lecture Series.