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The Amazing Story Of Quantum Mechanics

1/12/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The Amazing Story Of Quantum Mechanics in the USA - or Buy The Amazing Story Of Quantum Mechanics in the UK

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The Amazing Story Of Quantum Mechanics by James Kakalios. pub: Duckworth/Overlook. 316 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP12.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-071563-813-7.

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The sub-title for this book is ‘A Maths-Free Exploration Of The Science That Made Our World’. As author James Kakalios points out, that’s not entirely true but any maths used isn’t likely to be complicated but you’ll still have to get your head around quantum mechanics and a lot of algebra being explained but considering that it is the basis of all things computer then this isn’t for the faint-hearted. The reason that this book is of particular interest is that it is explained in context to Science Fiction so it gives a needed hook for you to understand the subject. You also get how right the SF authors were with their own ideas on the subject.

Kakalios is a little obsessed with Jonathan Osterman aka Dr. Manhattan in places and points out a picture of Niels Bohr meeting some physics graduates, forgetting that artist Dave Gibbons might have seen a similar picture. If you ever wondered if any author predicted things before they became reality, Kakalios points to Lester Dent’s greatest creation, Doc Savage, whose career is reflected by so many ever after.

Where this book scores very well is showing how much quantum mechanics was needed in the development of the silicon technology you rely on for your mobile phones, media and computers. In fact, anything that has a silicon chip in it owes its existence to quantum mechanics and we’d be a steampunk reality without it. Even the death-ray laser is accounted for and although we don’t have a portable power source to make it possible, the laser is the tool of choice for DVD recording. The excitement of atoms is also what makes light emitter diodes (LEDs) light up as well. Kakalios even covers the more recent invention of memory sticks and how they evolved. There is even some thought about portable one-man jetpacks where the real problem, as with aeroplanes is the power of the motor has to be greater than the fuel it carries and why it isn’t likely to happen any time soon. Advances in super-conductors that don’t lose any efficiency at higher temperatures is still in its infancy but you will also come away with a working knowledge how it’s developing.

In many respects, your knowledge of science when you write SF always needs to be kept up to date, together with and understanding of current limitations. The early SF authors didn’t have the insight to the possibilities that we have today to speculate on the future. They’re knowledge of science pre-semi-conductors limited them to think computers, for instance, came in only one size: HUGE! Therefore, it was unlikely that they would have considered the applications that we put them to today.

A book such as this can be read by readers for insight into how quantum mechanics has benefited your lives. For those who want to write Science Fiction, you will end up with a foundation for what is considered advanced today and leaves you open to ponder as to what the future will bring and what applications it will lead to. For someone like me, I can happily read and understand. For those who might look in with some trepidation, take it easy and read at a slow pace to digest the information. It is a worthwhile experience.

GF Willmetts

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This book has 253 votes in the sci-fi charts

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