Cover image for It must be beautiful : great equations of modern science
It must be beautiful : great equations of modern science
Farmelo, Graham.
Publication Information:
London ; New York : Granta, [2002]

Physical Description:
xvi, 283 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Q125 .I88 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A stunning and unique look at the great equations that lie at the heart of many of the most successful scientific theories.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Equations lie at the heart of many of the most successful scientific theories. This book presents the great equations of modern science for nonmathematical readers, attempting to convey some of their power and beauty. The editor cast a wide net in gathering these 12 essays, which encompass the formula for the chemical reaction that destroys ozone; an explanation of two equations that underlie the Internet and data transmission generally; mathematical mapping applied to evolution; editor Farmelo's own explication of Planck's energy formula; and more. Two of the big names in physics are on Farmelo's roster of writers, Roger Penrose and Steven Weinberg, as are twentieth-century physics' most fecund formulas: Einstein's special and general relativity equations; Schrodinger's wave equation; the Dirac equation; and others. Contributors include Peter Galison, Aisling Irwin, and Robert May. Gilbert Taylor.

Library Journal Review

The power of equations can seem magical, writes MIT physics professor Frank Wilczek in an essay on the Dirac Equation, which describes the movement of quantum particles. Like the brooms created by the Sorcerer's Apprentice, they can take on a life of their own, giving birth to consequences that their creator did not expect, cannot control, and may even find repugnant. Though it seems like an odd reversal of the scientific method to do the math first and then find the data that fit, it has happened time and again. These 11 essays contributed by various scientists and science writers (e.g., Roger Penrose, Peter Galison, Oliver Morton, and Steven Weinberg) describe scientific advances that derived from mathematical theory such as Einstein's thought experiments on relativity, a game theory equation that predicted animal behavior, or the discovery that the mathematics of chaos describes the real-world phenomenon. A fascinating history of science for educated nonmathematical readers; for larger public and academic libraries. Amy Brunvand, Univ. of Utah Lib., Salt Lake City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Equations of science should express fundamental laws of nature. This is especially true in physics, the most mathematical of the sciences. And equations that work well, that actually describe deep truth (as nearly as that truth can be ascertained experimentally), are described as being "beautiful"; indeed, P.A.M. Dirac summarized his philosophy of physics by writing, "Physical laws should have mathematical beauty." This collection of 11 essays by eminent scientists explores the beauty inherent in some well-known equations from physics (nine), biology (two), and chemistry (one). Essayists include Roger Penrose, writing on Einstein's equation of general relativity; Christine Sutton, on the Yang-Mills equation; and Robert May, on the logistic map. There is an afterword by Steven Weinberg on the longevity of the great equations. The essays are not scientific papers; in particular, the equations are discussed in prose and in historical context, and with some discussion of personalities. The quality of the writing is uniformly high, and authors make noble, and generally successful, attempts to describe both the abstract "beauty" and general utility of their individual equations. For well-educated general audiences and every undergraduate-level library collection. D. Robbins Trinity College (CT)

Table of Contents

Graham FarmeloGraham FarmeloRobert MayOliver MortonPeter GalisonAisling IrwinArthur I. MillerFrank WilczekJohn Maynard SmithRoger PenroseIgor AleksanderChristine SuttonSteven Weinberg
Foreword: It Must be Beautifulp. xi
A Revolution with No Revolutionaries: The Planck-Einstein Equation for the Energy of a Quantump. 1
The Best Possible Time to be Alive: The Logistic Mapp. 28
A Mirror in the Sky: The Drake Equationp. 46
The Sextant Equation: E = mc[superscript 2]p. 68
An Environmental Fairy Tale: The Molina-Rowland Chemical Equations and the CFC Problemp. 87
Erotica, Aesthetics and Schrodinger's Wave Equationp. 110
A Piece of Magic: The Dirac Equationp. 132
Equations of Life: The Mathematics of Evolutionp. 161
The Rediscovery of Gravity: The Einstein Equation of General Relativityp. 180
Understanding Information, Bit by Bit: Shannon's Equationsp. 213
Hidden Symmetry: The Yang-Mills Equationp. 231
Afterword: How Great Equations Survivep. 253
Notes and Further Readingp. 258
Indexp. 274