The Physics Book: From the Big Bang to Quantum Resurrection: Summary
Appropriately kicking off with the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago, the chronological journey is otherwise not segmented. How could it be? Discoveries don’t just pop up in categories to order. But that also means practical, down-to-earth, physics applications – like the engineering truss – can mingle with less tangible concepts like Pauli’s exclusion principle.
The engineering references in particular show how some devices we think of as modern were discovered and applied ages ago, even if they weren’t at the time properly understood in a scientific sense; it turns out the first electric battery pre-dated Volta by a whole millennium. In other news, we’ve only recently come to grips with why ice is slippery. We only figured out how the hourglass works in a 1996 physical modelling study at the University of Leicester (as it happens the city I originally hail from and an area of research technique I used to work in). Other apparently simple observations still lack a satisfactory explanation, like the mysterious black drop effect that happens when Venus transits the sun.
A repeating theme is discoveries being made independently by more than one person, like the explanation of rainbows, calculus, and the laws of refraction: a reminder perhaps that we discover scientific knowledge, not make it up depending on who we are, where we are, or which culture we belong to. There are also lessons in the less than intuitive nature of some relationships, like that between fluid volume and pipe size (Poiseuille’s Law).
The popular association of physics with weapons – typically represented by the iconic atom bomb mushroom cloud - is not neglected or shied away from. Indeed, Pickover describes a range of weapons enabled by physics through the centuries. I knew about the boomerang and crossbow, but the prehistoric atlatl technology,