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Princeton University Press
The Atom and the Apple: Twelve Tales from Contemporary Physics

The Atom and the Apple: Twelve Tales from Contemporary Physics

by Sébastien Balibar


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Where is mankind located in the Universe? What goes on inside atoms? Was Einstein always right? Will we find extraterrestrial life in the near future? And what should be done about global warming? Sébastien Balibar, a leading authority in physics, uses illuminating stories from his own life to answer the most intriguing questions in the physical sciences today. The Atom and the Apple considers aspects of our environment—the things we see around us, but seldom truly understand—and shows that science can be an exciting adventure grounded in the phenomena of the daily world.

Balibar examines twelve problems spanning the frontiers of physics, and he devotes a chapter to each issue. He looks at chaos theory, cosmology, fluid mechanics, and climatology. He explains how we discovered the age of the Earth, how we know the Universe is expanding ever more rapidly, and why the spiral patterns of pinecones and sunflowers are related to the Golden Ratio in mathematics. He scrutinizes how the collective behavior of atoms leads to such amazing results as lasers, superconductors, or superfluids. As Balibar invites us to appreciate the physics hidden within the sights and sounds of the natural world, he also recounts the experiences of his childhood and career that were pivotal to his lifelong passion for science.

Written for general readers, The Atom and the Apple explores fascinating aspects of our world, and demonstrates why the pursuit of scientific knowledge is well worth everyone's time, regardless of scientific background.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691131085
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 11/02/2008
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Sébastien Balibar is professor of physics at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.

Table of Contents

A Few Apples to Sink Your Teeth Into ix

Chapter 1: Black Night 1

Chapter 2: My Cousin the Leek 16

Chapter 3: I Am Radioactive 26

Chapter 4: Einstein, the Flute, and Quantum Dew 40

Chapter 5: Is My Table Quantum? 54

Chapter 6: The Power of Words 71

Chapter 7: Crystals and Glasses 91

Chapter 8: God, Helium, and Universality 105

Chapter 9: Cyclists and Butterflies 117

Chapter 1: Other Apples 132

Chapter 1: From Pianos to the Sun 146

Chapter 1: I Speak English 160

What Don't I Know? 172

Notes 179

Index 184

What People are Saying About This


This interesting book is indeed a significant addition to the field of popular science. With an engaging tone, The Atom and the Apple examines not only some deep contemporary problems, but also everyday phenomena. Balibar conveys to the reader that doing research in the frontiers of physics is a wonderful great adventure.
Pierre A. Piroue, Princeton University

A. Zee

For those tired of reading about a landscape of a zillion possible universes, each with its own physics and self-appointed prophets navigating around the swampland in search of other villages, Sébastien Balibar offers a refreshing romp through physics rooted in experimental reality, and even in everyday reality. As a theorist, I am enthralled.
A. Zee, author of "Fearful Symmetry" and "An Old Man's Toy"

Tony Leggett

This is a delightful smorgasbord of reflections on physics, its history and its practice, which can be read with pleasure even by those who found the subject frightening at school. Balibar is an excellent tour guide!
Tony Leggett, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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