Taming the Atom: The Emergence of the Visible Microworld

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The atomic hypothesis - that the universe consists of innumerable tiny particles in ceaseless motion - traces its roots to Greek antiquity, but until recently individual atoms remained theoretical conceptions far removed from the senses. Now technology has reached down into the abstract realm of the atom, and made it accessible to our eyes and fingertips. We have learned to catch, photograph, touch, and even modify atoms one by one. Thus, for the first time since the philosopher Democritus imagined it more than ...
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1992 Hard cover First edition. New in new dust jacket. Brand New. Fast Arrival. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 223 p. Audience: General/trade. Brand New. Fast Arrival.

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Overview

The atomic hypothesis - that the universe consists of innumerable tiny particles in ceaseless motion - traces its roots to Greek antiquity, but until recently individual atoms remained theoretical conceptions far removed from the senses. Now technology has reached down into the abstract realm of the atom, and made it accessible to our eyes and fingertips. We have learned to catch, photograph, touch, and even modify atoms one by one. Thus, for the first time since the philosopher Democritus imagined it more than two thousand years ago, the atomic landscape has been revealed in lavish beauty, as in the cover illustration from the scanning tunneling micrograph shown below, which depicts a baker's dozen of iodine atoms bonded together in six-fold symmetry, with a gaping hole glowing yellow where one of their number is missing. This picture represents a completely new perception of physical reality. It is the interface between the familiar macroscopic world and the microworld of elementary particles, where experience and intuition clash with the tantalizing paradoxes of quantum theory, marking the gateway to a mysterious inner territory that is as fascinating as outer space. Today the unsettling contrast between the notion of the atom as an ordinary object that we can see and touch, and as a quantum mechanical specter, has taken on a new urgency. "Nobody understands quantum mechanics," complained the great American physicist Richard Feynman, and he meant to include himself. The quantum theory of matter that predicts the properties of atoms in exquisite detail describes a world where probability replaces certainty, where an object can be in two places at once, and conventional logic fails. This world, once the subject of intense philosophical debate among such scientists as Einstein, Schrodinger, and de Broglie, has finally been unveiled. Experiments that had previously been carried out in a physicist's imagination and associated only with the hidden world of the inf
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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Lucid and entertaining.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Not many physicists these days have Baeyer's assured curiosity, which allows him to borrow a title from Saint-Exupery (``One only understands the things that one tames'') for his discussion of the wraiths and phantoms of nearly 50 years of quantum theory. Baeyer has the Little Prince's determined faith that the next generation will see the atomic world, and perhaps will at last unify atomic theory and quantum mechanics, the physics of Einstein and Bohr. As in his Rainbows, Snowflakes and Quarks, Baeyer dances gracefully with everyone's theories and makes them all seem charming to the general reader. But this is straight quantum, without clever analogy, Tao insights or any apology for the contradictions in current theories; the volume is, unfortunately, also without mathematics, even as an appendix. When the third revolution in physics (``a second quantum revolution'') comes--not necessarily, Baeyer points out, as a synthesis of past ones--Baeyer's readers will have already been alerted. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Aug.)
Library Journal
At the beginning of this volume, von Baeyer ( Rainbows, Snowflakes and Quarks , LJ 7/84) tells of his recent visit to a physics laboratory to actually see an individual mercury atom, captured, isolated, and made visible by very new techniques of microphysics. He then backs up to review the whole history of atomic theory, from the classical Greek philosophers to 20th-century quantum mechanics. Next, he tells us more of the modern techniques for manipulating and viewing atomic particles; this section features the technique known as ``scanning tunneling microscopy.'' Finally, he refers to the still-unresolved mystery of the foundations of quantum mechanics. All of this is accomplished without resort to diagrams or equations but with marvelously fluid and intelligible prose. The book will be accessible to well-informed lay readers but should also be entertaining even to advanced researchers. A superior work of scientific popularization; highly recommended for academic and public libraries.-- Jack W. Weigel, Univ. of Michigan Lib., Ann Arbor
Booknews
Von Baeyer (physics, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia) explains to general readers such arcana as the components of atoms, quantum mechanics, the atomic landscape, atoms in isolation, atoms in actions, atomic standards, and the search for the missing rung. The 1992 edition was published by Random House. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Take seriously that subtitle—for what this fascinating book is all about are devices and procedures that allow the imaging of even a single atom suspended in a tiny doughnut-shaped trap. Von Baeyer (Physics/College of William and Mary), who charmed lay and professional readers alike with his Rainbows, Snowflakes and Quarks (1984), takes his main title from the fox in Saint Exup‚ry's The Little Prince, who described "taming: as establishing bonds—a process that happens slowly and with patience." So it has been, von Baeyer contends, with the history of atomic theory from Democritus to Einstein down to the latter-day stars of quantum mechanics. He reminds us that no less a giant of physics than Ernst Mach stoutly denied the existence of atoms at the end of the 19th century. Now, while there are no doubters, there remain the paradoxes of quantum mechanics—such as wave- particle duality: In the "Copenhagen" interpretation, an electron is potentially either a wave or a particle and the act of measurement determines which. Einstein rejected that notion, arguing instead that there is an objective reality beyond acts of measurement. Von Baeyer sorts out the history and experiments behind the paradoxes to bring us up to date with new theories to resolve them—including the use of ingenious devices such as a "quantum eraser" sensitive to a photon extracted from a single atom. Other clever atom-taming devices in the author's marvelous catalog include an apparatus that can prevent the spontaneous emission of an atom; "tuned" lasers that can detect impurities in a sample down to a single atom; and the "magic wrist"—a machine that "feels" the "surface roughness of theatomic landscape." And all this told in that combination of depth of knowledge and eyewitness narrative that marks the best science writing. (Eight pages of color illustrations—not seen.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679400394
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/11/1992
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 223
  • Product dimensions: 6.43 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue
The Past
1 The Enduring Idea of Atomism 3
2 The Components of the Atom 20
3 Quantum Mechanics: The Language of the Atom 37
The Present
4 Images of Atoms 59
5 The Atomic Landscape 76
6 Atoms in Isolation 89
7 Atoms and the Void 104
8 Atoms in Action 118
9 Counting the Atoms 132
The Future
10 Atomic Standards 147
11 Large-Scale Quantum Mechanics 163
12 In Search of the Missing Rung 179
13 Quantum Reality 194
14 The Next Revolution 212
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