Cover image for Strange matters : undiscovered ideas at the frontiers of space and time
Strange matters : undiscovered ideas at the frontiers of space and time
Siegfried, Tom, 1950-
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Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Joseph Henry Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
ix, 307 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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QB981 .S535 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Scientists studying the universe find strange things in two places "out in space and in their heads. This is the story of how the most imaginative physicists of our time perceive strange features of the universe in advance of the actual discoveries.

It is almost a given that physics and cosmology present us with some of the grandest mysteries of all. What weightier questions to ponder than, "How does the universe work?" or "What is the universe made of?" There are any number of bizarre phenomena that could provide clues or even answers to these queries. The strangeness ranges from unusual forms of matter and realms of existence to wild ideas about how time and space are related to one another. Many of these proposals may well turn out to be wrong. But how many will be proven to be right?

This book speaks for the scientific theorists who are bold enough to imagine and predict the impossible. New ideas are percolating in their heads every day. One physicist may dream of subatomic particles that could resolve a variety of cosmological conundrums while another may study the likes of "funny energy," which may explain how rapidly the universe is expanding. This is the stuff of Strange Matters.

In broad terms, this book is about a variety of discoveries that theorists of the past imagined before the observers and experimenters actually saw them. Moreover, it is about the things that today (TM)s are now imagining "but haven't yet been discovered or confirmed by the observers. Strange Matters artfully mixes the present with the past and future, reporting from the frontiers of research where history is in the process of being made.

Each chapter examines a different step along the twisted path we've walked to gain our rudimentary understanding of the universe, incorporating historical examples of successful "prediscoveries" with current stories that relate brand new ideas. We come to see the universe not only in terms of what has already been discovered, but also in terms of what has yet to be observed.

Strange Matters is a guide to the discoveries of the twenty-first century, a series of visions dreamt by the most imaginative scientists of our time merged with the achievements of the past "to point the way towards even greater accomplishments of the future.

Author Notes

Tom Siegfried has been Science Editor of the Dallas Morning News since 1985. In 1993 he received the American Chemical Society's James H. Grady-James T. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public. In 1997 he received the American Psychiatric Association's Robert T. Morse Writer's Award. He is the author of The Bit and the Pendulum: From Quantum Computing to M Theory -- The New Physics of Information, which Booklist called "a volume of remarkable sweep." Tom lives in Arlington, Texas, with his wife Chris.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

There are three kinds of popular science book: the kind written by experts whose knowledge far exceeds their ability to tell an entertaining story; the kind written by experts who also happen to be terrific writers (Sagan, Gould); and the kind written by knowledgeable laypersons. This is the third kind. The author, science editor at the Dallas Morning News, is a journalist by trade, but he writes about science like a pro, making complex ideas seem straightforward. Witness his explanation of the mind-bending concept of "negative energy" (a vital aspect of quantum physics), which he equates to being in debt--when we spend more on credit than we earn, we not only don't have any money, we have "negative" dollars. There are lots of mind-bending ideas in here (a collapsing star goes from thousands of miles in diameter to about 20 miles in diameter in roughly a second), but nowhere does the author get bogged down in convoluted explanations or high-tech prose. A light, energetic introduction to cutting-edge physics and cosmology. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

The universe, as physicists have come to know it, is a very strange place, filled with particles known as quarks. Space itself, physicists have come to understand, is curved, and there may well be more than the three spatial and one temporal dimensions we have become accustomed to. Making sense of these fascinating but complex ideas for the general reader is a difficult task, one that science journalist Siegfried (The Bit and the Pendulum) accomplishes deftly, with wit and insight. Siegfried attempts to provide answers to the two basic questions that absorb physicists today: "What is the universe made of?" and "How does the universe work?" Although his answers, like those of the physicists he writes about, are tentative and contingent on the next major discovery, Siegfried brings clarity and a great deal of enthusiasm to the search for understanding. He does a superb job of explaining how mathematical advances have led to an amazing array of "prediscoveries," from the existence of antimatter to the concept of an expanding universe. He also looks to the future and outlines numerous weird possibilities, from minuscule superstrings to parallel universes. Along the way, he presents a thoroughly engaging, if just a bit eclectic, history of physics. Siegfried has turned a difficult subject into a book that is difficult to put down. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Siegfried's title is a pun of sorts, referring both to strange matter, i.e., matter composed of up, down, and strange quarks as opposed to normal matter, composed of only up and down quarks, and perhaps also to some of the most recent nonstandard proposals of theoretical physicists and cosmologists. These include supersymmetry, string theory, various suggestions concerning the nature of the dark matter that seems to permeate the universe (and is hypothesized to explain gravitational forces), and multiplicities of dimensions going beyond the familiar three for space and one for time. Siegfried is a science journalist who has obviously devoted much time and thoughtful attention to discussions with the leading researchers in these esoteric areas. Without using mathematics, he has produced a very readable study that should give intelligent lay readers a good idea of what theorists are up to and why they are venturing into this remarkably challenging terrain. Recommended for college and large public libraries. Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Siegfried undertakes the intimidating challenge of explaining some of the toughest problems that physicists and astronomers currently are struggling to solve. Readers will explore a veritable zoo of weird particles, mirror matter, dark matter and energy, multiple universes, and more in the borderland between particle physics and cosmology. Many of these concepts seemed radical only a few years ago--and some still are. Siegfried (science editor, Dallas Morning News) does a good job of distinguishing between the two. This is basically an account of the quest for an understanding of the most fundamental nature of the physical universe. In most of the largely independent chapters, Siegfried begins with a historical perspective and quickly extrapolates to what the future-accepted paradigm might be. The introduction aptly calls the book "a guide to the pre-discoveries of the twentieth century." Expect a twisted, convoluted story, just like the real universe! Die-hard science buffs will find the book hard to put down. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduate through graduate students; two-year technical program students. T. D. Oswalt Florida Institute of Technology

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Introductionp. 1
Part 1 Strange Matters
1 Strange Matter: From Gell-Mann and Quarks to the Search for Quark Nuggetsp. 13
2 Mirror Matter: From Dirac and Antimatter to the "Mirror World"p. 35
3 Super Matter: From Noether's Symmetry Theorem to Superparticlesp. 61
4 Dark Matter: From Pauli and the Neutrino to the Universe's Missing Massp. 87
Part 2 Strange Frontiers
5 The Best of all Possible Bubbles: From Friedmann and Cosmic Expansion to the Multiversep. 111
6 The Essence of Quintessence: From Einstein's Greatest Mistake to the Universe's Accelerating Expansionp. 138
7 Superstrings: From Maxwell and Electromagnetic Waves to a World Made of Stringsp. 160
Part 3 Strange Ideas
8 Stretching Your Brane: From Schwarzschild and Black Holes to New Dimensions of Spacep. 185
9 Ghosts: From Riemann and the Geometry of Space to the Shape of the Universep. 214
10 The Two-Timing Universe: From Einstein and Slow Clocks to a Second Dimension of Timep. 235
Epiloguep. 255
Notesp. 273
Further Readingp. 287
Indexp. 291