Edward Tryon

  (Redirected from Edward P. Tryon)

Edward P. Tryon (September 4, 1940 – December 11, 2019) was an American scientist and a professor emeritus of physics at Hunter College of the City University of New York (CUNY).[1] He was the first physicist to propose that our universe originated as a quantum fluctuation of the vacuum.[2][3]

Edward Tryon
Edward Polk Tryon

(1940-09-04) September 4, 1940 (age 80)
DiedDecember 11, 2019(2019-12-11) (aged 79)
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materCornell University
University of California, Berkeley
Known forProposing the idea that our universe originated from a quantum fluctuation of the vacuum
Scientific career
InstitutionsColumbia University
Hunter College of the City University of New York
Doctoral advisorSteven Weinberg

Early lifeEdit

Tryon was born and raised in Terre Haute, Indiana.[4] He took his first physics course in his junior year at Wiley High School.[5]

Academia and intellectual influencesEdit

Tryon entered Cornell University in 1958. He was influenced by Nobel Laureate Hans Bethe, who was one of his professors. He was especially affected by advice that Bethe gave him: "Our intuition is based on our experiences in the macroscopic world. There is no reason to expect our intuition to be valid for microscopic phenomena."[6] He graduated from Cornell University in 1962, earning a bachelors in physics.[4] He would then go on to do his graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley. There he was very much influenced by Steven Weinberg. He took courses taught by Weinberg, who would later become a mentor to him.[7] His doctoral thesis focused on the relationship between general relativity and quantum field theory[8] and was titled: "Classical and Quantum Field-Theoretic Derivations of Gravitational Theory."[9] He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a PhD in physics in 1967.

Dennis Sciama and the idea that the universe is a vacuum fluctuationEdit

In 1969, (some versions of this story say 1970), Tryon was at a lecture taking place at Columbia University being given by British cosmologist Dennis Sciama.[10] And when Sciama paused for a moment in his speaking, Tryon suddenly said out loud: "Maybe the universe is a vacuum fluctuation?"[11] Everyone laughed, assuming it was a joke.[12] Embarrassed, he did not explain to anyone that this was not the case. Tryon says he only remembered this incident after he was reminded of it when he published a paper about this subject matter.[13]


Tryon's specialization is in theoretical quark models, theoretical general relativity, and cosmology. In 1973, he proposed that the universe is a large-scale quantum fluctuation in vacuum energy. This is called vacuum genesis or the zero-energy universe hypothesis. He has been quoted as saying, "the universe is simply one of those things that happens from time to time"."[14]

In 1967, he began working at Columbia University as a research assistant. In 1968 he began working as an assistant professor and worked there until 1971.[1]

Tryon left Columbia University in 1971 and began working at Hunter College of the City University of New York, where he spent the rest of his academic career teaching as a professor.

Is the universe a vacuum fluctuation?Edit

In the early 1970s, there was still a strong belief among physicists that no one could speak about what came before the Big Bang and stay within the boundaries of science.[15] It was almost universally accepted that no scientist could explain why there is something and not nothing. This was the scientific climate Tryon existed in as he was getting settled working at Hunter College. But soon after arriving there he found himself in a writing project that he thought required him to do an exhaustive study of how modern science perceives our universe.[16] In studying the many ways cosmologists see our universe, he thought he had discovered a way it might have come into existence that no one had ever thought of. He then wrote his idea up as a scientific paper and tried to get it published. He submitted it to Physical Review Letters, but they rejected it. He then sent it to the British scientific journal Nature, hoping it might be accepted as a "letter to the editor". An editor from the journal did not just accept it, but decided to make it a feature article.[17]

The paper appeared in Nature in December, 1973, with the title: "Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?"[18] It proposed the idea that our universe had originated from a quantum fluctuation of the vacuum.[19] The cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin said of the paper: "Now, what Tryon was suggesting was that our entire universe, with its vast amount of matter, was a huge quantum fluctuation, which somehow failed to disappear for more than ten billion years."[20] Physicist Alan Guth made this comment about the paper: "In his controversial two-page paper, Tryon advanced the startling proposal that on rare occasions, whole universes might materialize from the vacuum, and our universe may have begun this way."[21] This was the first time any scientist had used science to try to explain how our universe may have originated from nothing.[17]

In his paper, Tryon first deals with the idea of how our universe could have come from nothing and stay within the laws of physics. The first law of thermodynamics says that energy can not be created or destroyed. Tryon needed to assert that our universe could come from nothing without breaking this law of the conservation of energy. He theorized that all the positive mass energy and all the negative gravitational energy cancel each other out, leaving us with a universe with zero energy. Tryon gives credit for learning this idea from the general relativist Peter Bergmann.[18] The person who first proposed the idea that we might live in a universe equaling zero because mass positive energy is equal to gravitation negative energy was the physicist Richard C. Tolman. Because Tryon believed our universe was equal to zero energy, in his paper Tryon said: "If this be the case, then our Universe could have appeared from nowhere without violating any conservation laws."

Tryon then goes on to describe how our universe could have come from a quantum fluctuation of the vacuum. He does this by simply applying our current scientific laws such as quantum mechanics and quantum field theory which exist in our universe, to that era before our universe was here. Like many physicists he believes that a vacuum, or empty space, existed before our universe existed. According to physics, because of quantum mechanics and quantum field theory, every vacuum has something in it. At the quantum level, because of the uncertainty principle, the law of the conservation of energy can be broken for just a brief moment, causing virtual particles to pop in and out of existence. Tryon says virtual particles also existed in the vacuum that was here before our universe existed, and these quantum fluctuations from nothing (the vacuum) eventually led to one of these particles popping into existence and becoming our universe.[22]

Tryon is not able to explain how one of these virtual particles grows to become a universe like ours, but he does say in his paper "that the laws of physics place no limit on the scale of vacuum fluctuations". He also mentions in his paper how "vacuum fluctuations of our Universe are probably quite rare".

While Tryon was the first person to say that our universe was a quantum fluctuation of the vacuum, the German physicist Pascual Jordan was the first person to talk about how a star might be created from the vacuum by a quantum transition. In the 1930s a number of physicists were looking at how to explain where matter was coming from if we lived in a continuous universe (an eternal one, always here). Jordan knew how a sun's mass positive energy could cancel out its gravitational negative energy, leaving a sun with zero energy. This led him to speculate what would prevent a quantum transition from the vacuum from creating a new sun.[23] Jordan was not suggesting that our universe could have come about by a quantum fluctuation of the vacuum, but how matter might be generated if we existed in an eternal universe.

In the early 1970s, a Ukrainian from Soviet Russia named P. I. Fomin (Peter Ivanovych Fomin) seems to have independently come up with the idea that our universe could have come about by a quantum process.[23] However, he did not publish anything until 1975, almost two years after Tryon came out with his paper, which resulted in the scientific community giving Tryon credit for coming up with this idea first.

Tryon also believed that this quantum event was without a purpose or cause. In essence, he was saying "that our universe could have originated in this way and emphasized such a creation event would not require a cause".[24] This is why in his paper he said: "In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time".

Even though this paper gives the impression that the mystery of where our universe originated is solved, it is not. In his paper Tryon mentions how there is this "larger space in which our Universe is embedded," but this place is given only a very vague and short description. Additionally, while Tryon says our universe came into being from an accident of the laws of physics, he does not say what created the laws of physics, leaving the mystery incompletely solved.


  • Tryon, Edward P. "Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?", in Nature, 246(1973), pp. 396–397.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Reynosa, Peter. "Why Isn't Edward P. Tryon A World-famous Physicist?". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 23, 2016.
  2. ^ Impey, p.411
  3. ^ Tryon, Edward P. "Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?". Nature. Retrieved March 26, 2016.
  4. ^ a b gribbin, p.303
  5. ^ Parker, p.186
  6. ^ Parker, pp.186-187
  7. ^ Parker, pp. 187-188
  8. ^ Parker, p.188
  9. ^ Tryon, Edward Polk (1967). "Classical and Quantum Field-Theoretic Derivations of Gravitational Theory". Harvard Education. Bibcode:1967PhDT........32T.
  10. ^ Guth, p.12
  11. ^ Gribbin, p.304
  12. ^ Vilenkin, p.183
  13. ^ Parker, p. 189
  14. ^ Guth, p.14
  15. ^ Chaisson, p.42
  16. ^ Parker, pp. 189-190
  17. ^ a b Guth, p.271
  18. ^ a b Tryon, Edward P. "Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?". Nature. Archived from the original on March 18, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
  19. ^ Vuletic, Mark I. "Creation ex nihilo-Without God". The Secular Web. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
  20. ^ Vilenkin, p.184
  21. ^ Guth, p.272
  22. ^ Gleiser, p.307
  23. ^ a b Gribbin, p.344
  24. ^ Vilenkin, pp. 184-185

Primary sourcesEdit