Cover image for Explaining the universe : the new age of physics
Explaining the universe : the new age of physics
Charap, John M.
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Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xii, 226 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Subject Term:
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QC21.3 .C48 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In this fascinating book, John Charap offers a panoramic view of the physicist's world as the twenty-first century opens--a view that is entirely different from the one that greeted the twentieth century. We have learned that the universe is billions of galaxies larger than we imagined--and billions of years older. We know more about how it came to be and what it is. Because of physics, we live in a world of greater danger and more convenience, smaller particles and bigger ideas.

Charap introduces these ideas but spares us the math behind them. After a review of the twentieth century's thorough transformation of physics, he checks in on the latest findings from particle physics, astrophysics, chaos theory, and cosmology. His tour includes ongoing efforts to find the universe's missing matter and to account for the first moments after the big bang. Taking readers right to the field's speculative edge, he explains how superstring theory may finally unite quantum mechanics with general relativity to produce a consistent quantum theory of gravity.

Along the way, Charap poses the questions that continue to inspire research. Why is the universe flat? Why can't we forecast weather better? Can Schrodinger's cat really be simultaneously dead and alive? Why does fractal geometry keep showing up in strange places? Might spacetime have eleven dimensions? What does quantum mechanics mean about the nature of our world?

In this book's pages, the nonphysicist will accept as commonsensical Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, and physicists can meet across specialties. Students can access physics' critical concepts, and poets can learn a new language to describe the universe's many wonders. Taking us from the ultraviolet catastrophe that undid the Newtonian world to tomorrow's Theory of Everything, Charap brings today's most fascinating science down to Earth, where we can all enjoy it.

Author Notes

John M. Charap is Professor of Theoretical Physics at Queen Mary, University of London. He is an internationally acclaimed particle theorist and the editor of Geometry of Constrained Dynamical Systems .

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Among the slew of popular treatments of modern physics, Charap's effort distinguishes itself by accenting the provisional character of scientific theory. A particle physicist, Charap efficiently describes the niggling doubts that attend the reigning theories in his specialty, and he maintains this estimable tenor in topics on which he is, perhaps, not so immediately an expert, such as chaos and cosmology. His approach results in a fine survey in which the overarching theme is the problems with classical physics circa 1900; how those problems have come to be seen in the light of relativity and quantum field theory; and the phenomena, among them gravity, that continue to elude explanation. Just as some theorists have touted a strange idea (strings) to explain gravity, Charap recounts how previous "reaches" to overcome a problem gained acceptance. Science students will find the author's palpable curiosity enticing. --Gilbert Taylor

Choice Review

Charap (theoretical physics, Univ. of London) cuts a wide swath through the physical universe, from the physics of the very large to the physics of the very small. He briefly surveys the existing state of knowledge and then asks what the current unresolved questions are and how we might pursue their resolution. Throughout his discourse, the author maintains a scientific rigor, constantly reminding the reader not to fall prey to pseudoscientific arguments. In the first of 13 well-written chapters, Charap reviews our knowledge of the universe before the 20th century. He follows up with a case-by-case exposition of the many areas of current interest in physics--cosmic evolution, quantum gravity, chaos theory, elementary particles, and string theory. The book is very readable and has excellent photographs and illustrations. It introduces the reader to a broad range of topics from the physical universe on the cutting edge of research. Chapter endnotes; glossary; excellent index; suggestions for further reading. All levels. N. Sadanand Central Connecticut State University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
A Note on Numbersp. xi
1 Introductionp. 1
2 Physics 1900p. 13
3 Heavens Abovep. 24
4 Chance and Certaintyp. 43
5 Order Out of Chaosp. 64
6 Your Place or Minep. 77
7 Many Histories, Many Futuresp. 86
8 Microcosmp. 100
9 Weighty Mattersp. 119
10 Stringsp. 136
11 In The Beginningp. 151
12 Down to Earthp. 172
13 Epiloguep. 188
Notesp. 195
Glossaryp. 209
Suggestions for Further Readingp. 215
Index of Namesp. 219
General Indexp. 223