Experimental Quantum Cosmology with the BICEP CMB Polarimeter

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The Background Imager of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP) experiment is the first polarimeter developed to measure the inflationary B-mode polarization of the CMB. During three seasons of observing at the South Pole, Antarctica beginning in 2006, BICEP mapped 2% of the sky chosen to be clean of polarized foreground emission, with sub-degree resolution. In this colloquium I will present initial results derived from a subset of the data acquired during the first two years of data and discuss the unique design features of BICEP which led to the first meaningful limits on the tensor-to-scalar ratio to come from B-mode polarization. Recently, Xia, Li & Zhang (2009) have claimed a detection of parity-violating "cosmic birefringence" effects using publicly available BICEP data. I will discuss polarimetric fidelity in the light of systematic errors and how such effects are particularly pernicious for probes of cosmic parity violation. I will conclude with a discussion demonstrating how BICEP, and its successor "BICEP2" will inform future measurements of the inflationary gravitational wave background and cosmic birefringence.