February 29, 2020

Review: The Quantum Universe by Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw.

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Quantum physics is perhaps the most arcane field of research out there today. It’s a field where particles pop in and out of existence, actions happen at a distance, and cats in boxes appear to be both alive and dead depending on the actions of the observer. Although there has been much written on the odd world of quantum physics, there are very few books out there for the curious layperson. This week’s review, The Quantum Universe, & Why Anything that Can Happen, Does by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw may be the most accessible work yet on the subject. Physicist Brian Cox is known as a tireless promoter of science as the host of BBC’s The Wonders of the Solar System and The Wonders of the Universe. Professor Jeff Forshaw specializes in the actions of elementary particles and has written several books on the same.

Scared you off yet? Don’t worry, the authors don’t assume any prior knowledge on the subject and do not get “mathier” than high school algebra. And even if you can’t follow the math, you can be astounded by the amazing things that quantum physics predicts. Einstein himself refused to believe this facet of the strange world of the sub-atomic, making his famous statement that “God Does not play dice with the universe.” But those particles just refuse to be pinned down with tidy predictions, and it became more apparent though the course of the 20th century that the universe was in fact run by an inconvertible gambler. But beyond just making chalk board equations balance out, Cox and Forshaw demonstrate the reality of the quantum world and the stupendous advances in technology that it has ushered in. Diodes, transistors, computers and mobile phones are all possible only through our understanding on quantum technology, allowing us to create such nifty devices as “valves” for the flow of electrical current and the creation of logic gates.

But the more you know about quantum physics, the stranger it gets. Did you know that the very fabric of space is coupled with an enormous amount of “negative” energy? Or that the universe had to undergo a phase transition very early on in its creation for matter to be “frozen out?” The authors tackle these mind bending topics and more, along with an interesting final look at the physics of dying stars. The hunt for the Higgs-Boson via the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland may prove to be yet another victory for quantum theory prediction, (otherwise, we may live in a yet stranger universe!) and already, experiments have also been carried out at the observatories based in the Canary Islands that suggest the reality of “spooky action at a distance.”

Do search out The Quantum Universe for a better understanding of the wackiness of the subatomic world. For a fine pairing we would also suggest How the Hippies Saved Physics, Quantum Man (the biography of Richard Feynman) and Massive. It’s breathtaking to think that quantum encryption and quantum computing may be the next technological breakthroughs just down the road!

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