The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth’s Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe

July 8, 2010
Author:
Anil Ananthaswamy
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade (3/2/2010)

Amazon | The Edge of Physics coverDespite 20th-century physics’ revelations, from relativity and quantum mechanics to the physics of the atom’s nucleus and the life cycles of stars, ninety-odd percent of the universe is a complete mystery, says a scientist quoted by Ananthaswamy, a consulting editor for New Scientist. Dark matter, dark energy, quantum gravity: these are the topics that keep physicists awake at night, requiring bigger, more massive, more extreme experiments to test theories and uncover clues. The author takes readers behind the scenes of these experiments in some of the most inhospitable places in the world, leading the tour with wit and an eye for compelling detail. First is a pilgrimage to Mount Wilson Observatory, where astronomers first measured the expansion of the universe. Next we go 2,341 feet underground in a defunct Minnesota iron mine to search for particles that could reveal dark matter. Sensitive telescopes embedded in the thick ice of Siberia’s Lake Baikal and Antarctica search for neutrinos. These experiments and others are heroic in every sense, and Ananthaswamy captures their excitement—and the personalities of the scientists behind them—with enthusiasm and insight.