Strange Matters: Undiscovered Ideas at the Frontiers of Space and Time

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Hardcover w / dustjacket. NEW. DJ is fine / new. Stored in sealed plastic protection. No pricing stickers. No remainder mark. No previous owner's markings. In the event of a ... problem we guarantee full refund. 2002. Hardcover w / dustjacket. Read more Show Less

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Overview

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’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.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
Tom Siegfried...takes readers on an extraordinary journey into the world of physics and the universe, explaining the thoughts of scientists who fashion theories and then set out to prove them. His pace is light, and the writing is clever.
July 2002
Washington Times
Mr. Siegfried's breezy account includes a healthy dose of exposition of current physical theories, but focuses on the unconventional implications some have drawn from them.
Nature
...[an] enjoyable new book... the eclectic mix [of topics] helps to set the book apart from other recent popular books on similar subjects. ...the pace is just right and the presentation engaging.
Schapiro, Nancy
I highly recommend Strange Matters: Undiscovered Ideas at the Frontiers of Space and Time for anyone interested in the frontiers of modern science, weird as it is. ... Siegfried uses analogies, examples, even humor, in describing what is the latest thinking of scientists such as Murray Gell-Mann and Edward Witten, who may in the future be recognized as Einsteins. ... Siegfried's Strange Matters are very strange indeed and, therefore, very, very interesting.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Philadelphia Inquirer
Though the concepts he describes are enormously complex and often quite bizarre, his clear, simple style makes them, if not fully comprehensible, at least accessible. ...as we get in step with Siegfried, we learn that just as one needn't be a musician to appreciate music, it is not necessary to understand these concepts in great detail.
New York Times Book Review
.. fascinating... [Siegfried's] breezy treatment is a welcome addition to efforts to give access to the latest developments in fields that are hard for outsiders to keep track of... [he's] an exceptionally knowledgable guide..
Newsday
Tom Siegfried...takes readers on an extraordinary journey into the world of physics and the universe, explaining the thoughts of scientists who fashion theories and then set out to prove them. His pace is light, and the writing is clever.
Salon.com
..frequently fascinating... a captivating discussion of where science is headed... Siegfried is an engaging writer and often produces inventive imagery... Strange Matters is one of the most stimulating popular science works published in the last few years.
Dallas Morning News
Without resorting to math, Mr. Siegfried illuminates the essential questions of each chapter and finds anaologies that put those into perspective.Without resorting to math, Mr. Siegfried illuminates the essential questions of each chapter and finds anaologies that put those into perspective.
Foreword Magazine
Despite ideas as expansive and far reaching as the universe itself, Siegfried manages to convey his message in an easily digestible, down to earth way. The reader will be provided with an intriguing preview to what may be the next version of science's continually changing truth.
Booklist
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. ... There are lots of mind-bending ideas in here, 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.
Publishers Weekly
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.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
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 Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
The science editor of the Dallas Morning News takes general audiences on a tour of key cosmic mysteries paired with physicists who anticipated discoveries on the frontiers of physics and cosmology. E.g. Siegfried traces the phenomena of dark matter from Pauli's 1930 "prediscovery" of a new particle to more recent understandings of the neutrino. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
Kirkus Reviews
The science editor of the Dallas Morning News turns from the digital information frontier (The Bit and the Pendulum, 2000) to a penetrating study of how some of the most brilliant scientific minds have perceived and anticipated reality. The anticipation comes early and often in the first half, which deals with the bewildering world inside the atom: particle physics and quantum mechanics. Siegfried uses the notion of "prediscovery" to recount how using mathematics time and again has enabled researchers with vision to postulate the existence of elemental particles, the basic building blocks of matter itself, that would not be confirmed by experiment or observation until years or even decades later. What could have been a brutally dry exercise is enlivened by the author’s ability to get inside the heads of those who made the discoveries as he draws on both personal interviews and years of research. Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, and all the other legends are here, but so are lesser-known luminaries like Paul Dirac and Carl Anderson, who stared at the same sets of numbers as others had but were able to divine entirely new ideas from them. The author’s ability to connect with original acts of "doing the math" pays off, for example when the fact that an equation has square root components (possibly negative numbers) suggests not only that a particle could have "negative energy" but ultimately the concept of antimatter. By the latter part of the 20th century, as predicted new particles begin to leap out of accelerators nearly every other day and quantum mechanics takes on a circus atmosphere with heady concepts like mirror-matter and super symmetry piling on top of each other, some readers willneed all the help they can get. Most should be much better equipped to grapple with cosmology and its enduring mysteries in the latter parts. Laudable effort to bridge the gap between ordinary readers and science at its weirdest. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780309084079
  • Publisher: National Academies Press
  • Publication date: 8/9/2002
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Siegfried is the science editor for the Dallas Morning News.
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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction 1
1 Strange Matter: From Gell-Mann and Quarks to the Search for Quark Nuggets 13
2 Mirror Matter: From Dirac and Antimatter to the "Mirror World" 35
3 Super Matter: From Noether's Symmetry Theorem to Superparticles 61
4 Dark Matter: From Pauli and the Neutrino to the Universe's Missing Mass 87
5 The Best of all Possible Bubbles: From Friedmann and Cosmic Expansion to the Multiverse 111
6 The Essence of Quintessence: From Einstein's Greatest Mistake to the Universe's Accelerating Expansion 138
7 Superstrings: From Maxwell and Electromagnetic Waves to a World Made of Strings 160
8 Stretching Your Brane: From Schwarzschild and Black Holes to New Dimensions of Space 185
9 Ghosts: From Riemann and the Geometry of Space to the Shape of the Universe 214
10 The Two-Timing Universe: From Einstein and Slow Clocks to a Second Dimension of Time 235
Epilogue 255
Notes 273
Further Reading 287
Index 291
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Interviews & Essays

Risky Business

Putting physics into words is always rather risky.

Physics is precisely conveyed only with math. People argue endlessly over the words you use to describe a physicist's formula. But if you stick to equations, there are rules for checking to see if the equations are right. In popular books, though, words and equations don't easily mix. The popularizer's task is clear -- tell people what the equations mean, without ever actually showing the equations. You have to run the risk of misunderstanding in order to have any hope that the readers will understand anything at all.

I have a solution for that problem, though -- I make up my own words. In my first book, The Bit and the Pendulum, I coined the term "superparadigm." It's a play on Thomas Kuhn's famous idea for describing the intellectual straightjacket in which scientists ordinarily operate. Kuhn's paradigms served as frameworks for solving specific problems within a particular scientific discipline, like astronomy. My superaparadigm describes a grand, overarching metaphor for the universe that guides the way all scientists approach their task of explaining nature (the universe as a clockwork, for example, or as a steam engine, or as a computer).

For my book Strange Matters, I made up the word "prediscovery." It's a shorthand way to say that sometimes theorists identify phenomena in their equations that no experimenter has yet found. The famous British physicist Paul Dirac found antimatter in an equation, for example, before it was discovered in cosmic rays. In Dirac's heyday (the 1920s) prediscoveries of this sort were rather unusual. But nowadays theorists are constantly claiming that their math reveals the existence of yet unseen things -- new particles, new forms of matter, even parallel universes. As I chronicle in my book, many such potential prediscoveries are found these days on the frontiers of physics. They are, of course, not true prediscoveries yet -- many, if not most, will just turn out to be ideas that nature refuses to accommodate. You don't know if any given idea represents a true prediscovery until later, when whatever it is gets discovered for real. To me, that distinction between potential and true prediscovery seems obvious, although it seems to have eluded the grasp of one reviewer. But I suppose that merely illustrates the dangers of making up words to describe complicated physics. It's a little like combining matter with antimatter -- potentially explosive.

But it's not the most surprising confusion that my words have created. All the strange matters described in my book are based on serious research by real physicists. Superdense particles made of strange quarks, invisible matter in other dimensions, parallel universes, ghost images of distant galaxies, a second dimension of time, all flow out of real equations that may very well turn out to describe the real universe. It's physics at its finest. And I thought Strange Matters was the perfect title to describe it all. Once again, though, words and physics mixed poorly: The best chance my book has to be a bestseller, someone pointed out to me, is that people will think it's about the paranormal. Tom Siegfried

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