1/10/2011. Contributed by Phil Jones
pub: No Starch Press. Inc and Ohmsha Ltd. 177 page graphic novel. Price: $19.95 (US) GBP15.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-59327-272-2.
check out website: www.nostarch.com
The theory of relativity, most of us have heard of it along with the theoretical physicist Einstein and his most famous equation E = mc2. How many of us, although we might have studied it, can say that we really grasped the concepts and ideas of relativity? There are plenty of books out there about relativity and even books like Steven Hawking’s ‘A Brief History Of Time' tries to make some of these difficult concepts more accessible. There are a few concepts in the theory that are counter-intuitive. Ideas such as time dilation, how length contracts and mass increases at relativistic speeds are hard to get your head round, especially where in our day-to-day experience, we're used to a newtonian view of the world.
So this book uses manga and some textbook like sections, yes, there are a few, to help you get your head around relativity. We join a class at the Takai Academy, it’s the end of term and the headmaster who is a bit bonkers, gets the class to study Einstein's theory of relativity over the summer. Minagi, one of the students, comes to the rescue by offering to take on the task for the whole class. The one problem being he knows absolutely nothing about relativity. Fortunately for him, he will have the pleasant Miss Uraga to teach him.
We start off with the general introduction to relativity and the main differences between special relativity and general relativity. As it is simpler, we start off with Minagi and Miss Uraga discussing special relativity which only concerns itself with an observer who is either at rest or moving at a constant velocity. We don't have to consider the effects of acceleration and gravity.
Before this, though, we touch on the concepts of gravity, Galilean principle of relativity, and Newtonian mechanics. This introduction also touches on the history development of these ideas. Also, it discusses the fact that relativity as a theory grew out of the mystery of speed of light as predicted by Maxwell's equations. These equations also allowed the unification of electricity and magnetism. Thus, we then move onto the concept of the speed of light being constant.
As a side note there has been some interesting results at CERN with neutrinos possibly traveling faster than light at website http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/sep/22/faster-than-light-particles-neutrinos . This would turn a lot of current physics theories on their head if it’s verified. Einstein did not determine the speed of light but his theories are heavily based on the speed of light in a vacuum being constant. We move from the manga to more text based explanation of light and some of the ideas and concepts touched on by Miss Uraga and Minagi in the previous section.
The next section has our intrepid learner finding out about time dilation (Urashima Effect) and uses some lovely examples and clever use of Pythagorean Theorem. Their class is even interrupted when another student's arrow, which flies into the class. Minagi gives his teacher a present but tells her she must never open it. Again, at the end of the section, we get more in-depth explanation of proof of time dilation.
We join Minagi with his teacher at the pool for the next instalment. I don't remember any bikini-clad physics teachers when I was at school but this is Japanese Manga, mind you I don't think either of our two male physics teachers would have suited a bikini. A discussion of how length contracts and mass increases the closer we get to the speed of light, along with Newton's equations of motion and E = mc2. Some of the other students who are studying at the pool are perturbed when the vice principal (who is a dog?) turns up and Minagi meets up again with the girl who shot the arrow into class. With the in-depth explanation at the end of the section, we start introducing the effect of gravity and Lorentz contraction to bring use onto general relativity. The last few sections illuminate general relativity, the phenomena that have been discovered because of it such as gravitational lenses and black holes. It also brings in real world examples that affect our everyday life such as GPS and how relativity has to be taken into account to calculate your position on Earth.
I have to confess that like quantum mechanics, the theory of relativity was one area of physics I never completely grasped. This book does a wonderful job of making these concepts and theories easily accessible and easy to grasp. It covers a lot of ground talking about the history and background of these physical concepts and laws. It uses the manga storyline to introduce, explore and show real world examples to the benefit of both the reader and the main characters. It's playful in its approach and doesn't labour over points. The written text sections have lots of really helpful diagrams and yes, there is maths and equations. These, though, are explained really clearly and help you to understand the ideas being got across. Physics does get overlooked sometimes, but I think with the inclusion of real world uses, such as GPS, it highlights that this is not all high end thought exercises. Books like these help us to get a grasp of the world around us and help us to think and question and not just sit back and let the world pass us by. I would strongly encourage people to take a look at this book and others in the series, especially if you don't normally look at science books. It also makes you realise how much real science is in Science Fiction.
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