Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth's Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Anil Ananthaswamy

I finished September's science theme with a big bang (groan).* Ananthaswamy begins with the premise that physics has become too theoretical in recent years and we need to confirm these theories with observations. Then he goes around the world to visit telescopes and other instruments that are looking for breakthroughs in physics. His journey takes him to six continents excepting Australia.

The author generally does a good job of explaining things for the layperson, but The Edge of Physics is right on the edge of my comprehension. I don't have a lot of background in quantum physics and string theory so I got lost a few times.

I find it very encouraging that in the three years since this book was published, at least one of the objectives stated within has been achieved: scientists at the Large Hadron Collider detected the Higgs boson in 2012 (and namesake Peter Higgs just won the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Francois Englert). Regarding that project, Ananthaswamy offers many fascinating details about the unusual challenges engineers confronted in design and construction.

I like science books about actually doing science more than those that merely report results or explain theories. The Edge of Physics is that kind of book, and it was a great way to end the month.

* An interesting tidbit from The Edge of Physics: Fred Hoyle, the guy who coined the term "big bang" in 1949, actually supported a different theory; he was using the words disparagingly!

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