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The Edge Of Physics by Anil Ananthaswamy

01/03/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The Edge Of Physics in the USA - or Buy The Edge Of Physics in the UK

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pub: Duckworth Overlook. 324 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 9.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-71-564072-2).

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The title, ‘The Edge Of Physics’, should make you think of new frontiers in science. To some extent it is although it has been carried out for several decades now. Never believe science is about instant discoveries. It’s not.

The sub-title, ‘Dispatches From The Frontiers Of Cosmology’ should clue you into the subject matter and why all these projects are on-going and work in progress. Author Anil Ananthaswamy visits places all over the world that are the prime spots to investigate the cosmos through telescopes or way underground to measure neutrinos and what makes our universe tick. To do this, you have to have places that are at extreme heights or depths and certainly away from electrical interference. Not only does he explain the adverse weather conditions and such, but has first-hand experience and you share his time at each of these places and get to know what it’s really like. If you’re a scientist then you have to be a hardy breed being able to tolerate low temperatures and not missing the colours green and blue for long periods. With the latter, I’m surprised that they don’t decorate their rooms with such colours when they have them.

Ananthaswamy also interviews many of the people involved in these projects so you learn about the history of the places and the problems they have with their investigations. Learning of the problems creating refractor telescopes and how to align them in more primitive times is very illuminating. In the Antarctic, the biggest problem other than low temperature is how the snow keeps under and over-minding the bases there. The first one is now some twenty foot down in the snow.

If you’re interesting in dark matter, then you get a large dash of science and a better understanding of how it was considered to account for the movement of the galaxies. The examination of the Big Bang and how practical meets up with theory is gratifying although it is odd that some people out there in the real world haven’t fully grasped it. What are they teaching them in schools these days?!!

If you ever wondered about radio astronomy and how it works, then the chapters devoted to it should complete your education. It was rather weird reading how elaborate they have to be setting up radio telescopes free of interference and than in India, a chap called Govind Swarup comes up with an economic way to make one on a twelve million dollar budget as opposed to a seventy-eight million dollar budget. There is also the history of pulsating radio sources aka pulsars from 1967 and the sexism that went on back then neglecting Jocelyn Bell’s involvement in its discovery. More in the present there is also the connection between radio astronomy and string theory.

Just to bring things up to date at the end, Ananthaswamy examines the progress made with the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. As this particular project is still developing, we’ll have to wait for the results there.

If you thought that we’ve learnt all that we need to know about science then I think this book will point out that we’re still learning. Theoretical scientists might have theories but practical scientists are out there looking for the evidence which is often what I would have thought should be done first. A fascinating insight not only into the sciences but also the places they work in. It makes working in a laboratory look quite cosy in comparison.

GF Willmetts

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