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The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth's Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe Paperback – Jan 14 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (Jan. 14 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547394527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547394527
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.5 x 2.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 358 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #544,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier TOP 50 REVIEWER on June 4 2010
Format: Hardcover
The word "physics" in this book's title may instil fear in the minds of some potential readers who may dislike its possible implications for the book's content. For the most part, however, these fears can be set aside. This book is essentially a memoir of the author's travels across the globe to places that include some of the most remote, most inhospitable locations that this planet has to offer. The reason for his journey is to visit scientists (mostly physicists) who are building instruments that will help humanity better understand our universe. Each chapter focuses on a different location; these include, but are not limited to: a deep underground mine, various mountain tops, hot arid desert regions and bitterly cold icy places, i.e., Siberia and Antarctica (including the South Pole). In each case, the author discusses the remoteness of the location, the hardships involved for the scientists and staff that live and work there and the challenges faced in building the experimental set-up. He also discusses the ultimate purpose of each scientific investigation. This is where he briefly (and in clear prose) describes the science being investigated and the questions that the experiment being set up will, some day, help answer.

The writing style is clear, friendly, engaging and mostly quite accessible (I "mostly" because I found the last chapter to be a bit otherworldly (literally) and more of a head-scratcher; but such abstract ideas have often proven to be essential for the healthy progression of science). Although this book can be enjoyed by anyone, especially those interested in how cutting edge physics is progressing, avid well-read science buffs may not find too many scientific surprises. However, all readers would likely be fascinated by the author's narrative describing the extreme living and working conditions being endured all in the name of science.
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Format: Hardcover
This book should be mandatory reading in high school - it showcases the frankly jaw-dropping work being done all over the world in the realm of Physics. Critically, however, it is not a dry or singular approach; it includes wonderfully endearing, fascinating and inspiring information about the context of all these projects. Some anecdotes are historical, some are modern but all are eye-opening. The challenges faced by scientists across borders and time, but their eventual successes and growth are moving and encouraging to anyone who might wonder if we have a future as a race. Any book that can span subjects as diverse as the impact of radio telescope arrays on South African socio-economic development (including a very moving reference to apartheid's role, which serves as a reminder just how recent that terrible period was) and the value of gardening on top of a mountain in Chile, has got my vote for interesting. What makes this book important in my opinion is that it draws you into worlds which are normally invisible to the layman, and which even if seen can be quite confusing. I am coming away from this book with a strong desire to learn more about everything I read, and feeling immensely grateful to those who have worked so tirelessly to give us the knowledge we often take for granted.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 68 reviews
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
"...physicists listen for the whispers from other universes"...but mainly to those from our own Jan. 24 2010
By K. M. - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This outstanding book reports on how cutting edge experimental physics is testing theories about dark energy, dark matter, inflation after the Big Bang, evidence of the Bang itself, multiverses, and the Higgs boson, to name a few. The author has trekked the globe to observe the various telescopes and particle colliders putting to the test the cosmological and quantum theories presently in vogue. Will string theory be verified? Will the graviton be found? Will better evidence confirm whether our universe's geometry is flat, saddle-shaped, or spherical?

To potentially answer such queries, The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth's Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe takes us first to Mount Wilson in California where "[t]he observatory [George] Hale built is called the birthplace of modern observational cosmology." Next, the author, journalist Anil Ananthaswamy, descends into the bowels of the Soudan Mine in Minnesota which now "hosts one of cosmology's most sensitive experiments: the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS)." Among the other sites he visits are the Siberian neutrino telescope at Lake Baikal, another neutrino array telescope at the South Pole, an antimatter balloon experiment in Antarctica, and the European CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Still another project isn't lashed to earth somewhere but has been sent out 900,000 miles into space. It's "the Planck satellite, the latest in a small but select group of pathbreaking space probes designed to map the cosmic microwave background." It was launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in May, 2009. Of course, its scientists remain earthbound to monitor and analyze its anticipated wealth of relayed information.

Ananthaswamy skillfully integrates technical engineering details, clear background about the theories that might be verified and the human element. He interviews many of the people who brave often harsh, unforgiving climates and geography to build, operate, and interpret the minutely sensitive and calibrated instruments and their collected data.

In the epilogue Ananthaswamy journeys to Mount Saraswati in Tibet where the new Hanle Observatory is part of "an international collaboration called COSMOGRAIL (for COSmological MOnitoring of GRAvItational Lenses)." He notes there "I became aware of the deep silence enveloping me....It is abundantly clear, standing in Hanle, as it had been in places like the South Pole, Lake Baikal, Paranal, and the Karoo, that the natural calm of these places is what makes them ideal to cosmology. We need to protect them.... If we pollute them, we will destroy our best chance of deciphering our own beginnings, of understanding ourselves." Finding suitably remote, unspoiled locations on earth constantly becomes more difficult, but as THE EDGE OF PHYSICS so compellingly relates, we can still learn a great deal from telescopes and other instruments deployed here if we don't despoil the remaining wilds where they can be maximally effective.

This is a superb resource for anyone who eager learn about the current state of experimental physics, the technology required to carry out the research, the geography that best sustains various projects, the theories being tested, and the men and women who are on the front lines constantly evaluating, innovating, and stretching the boundaries of our knowledge about the cosmos.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
A Potent Combination Jan. 17 2010
By James Pine - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
For years, physicists have been trying to unify the four (known) fundamental forces of nature: gravity, strong nuclear, weak nuclear and electromagnetic. In this book, the author attempts to tie together work being done in ten different locations across six continents, each of which may provide a piece to the puzzle. Dark matter/energy, the multiverse, string theory and other topics make an appearance; if your goal is to get a deep understanding of any of them, this is not the book for you. However, if the story behind the science, coupled with a history and sense of place plus a gentle introduction to physics involved is your goal, then this is the book you're looking for.

In each chapter, the author details:

- why a particular location was chosen e.g. very little radiation/cosmic rays reach the depth of the Soudan Mine.

- how the instruments at each location are constructed e.g. "drilling" holes at the South Pole with hot water

- what the instruments are doing e.g. detecting neutrinos coming from the center of our galaxy

- why the experiments are important e.g. trying to determine whether our universe is flat or has a negative/positive curvature

In addition, he provides a window into the extraordinary lives of the people building the instruments/running the experiments/analysing the results, people who have devoted years of their lives and/or endure extreme conditions in the pursuit of science. He also sprinkles a number of non-scientific stories and facts about the locations themselves (Lake Baikal has a surprise at the bottom of it courtesy of the Russo-Japanese War) into the mix.

While the chapters can feel a bit long winded and repetitive at times, the book as a whole provides an engaging, enlightening read, a great springboard, should you desire, from which to explore the science, the places and/or the history in more depth.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
A book that will make you stand up cheer March 15 2010
By A. Bhadra - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The legendary advertisement that was supposed to have been placed in a London newspaper by Sir Ernest Shackleton reads: MEN WANTED: FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS. Whether true or not, it is this spirit that animates the physicists who strive to discover the secrets of our universe at some of the most inhospitable places on Earth, under harrowing conditions that would give pause to the most intrepid explorer. Anil Ananthaswamy follows them and provides us with a window into their world. The result is a fascinating book which frames the tenets of Physics in a manner that is accessible to practically anyone. More importantly, it frames those eternal questions that have piqued the interest of mankind since the development of cognizance: Why are we here? Where did we come from? What lies outside the Universe, are there any other "heres"? The questions themselves awaken a sense of awe, but it is even more interesting to look into the lives of those who did not stop there, but decided to do something about it. From the Fraunhofer lines in stellar spectra to Digital Optical Modules embedded in a cubic kilometer of ice beneath the Earth's South Pole, to the coldest place in the known universe (which, oddly enough, is in a tunnel underneath Geneva), it is heartening to hear the stories of seemingly ordinary people who are striving to do extraordinary things. The result is a stirring, awe-inspiring good read, which has a definite tendency to make you want to stand up and cheer. Luckily for me, this could be accomplished with the minimum of fuss from my favorite armchair.

April 15, 2010: Some reviewers have made a note of the fact that the book does not have any high-quality pictures. To access additional content, pictures, videos and other details can be found at the web site for this book, [..] plus the author's blog on his travels to remote parts of the planet. Check it out!
30 of 39 people found the following review helpful
It's a journal, not a science book Jan. 1 2010
By M. L Lamendola - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book's title does not describe its contents. An accurate title for the book would have been "My Visits to Ten Sites Used for Astronomy and Physics Research." The subtitle hints at this, but only if you ignore that title.

The author doesn't cover the edge of physics. He journals his visits to ten sites that have advanced equipment for astronomy or physics. He tosses in a little physics background, mostly string theory and precious little else.

Unfortunately, Ananthaswamy works in journalism. So, he wrote a journal instead of a science book. This, despite a title that indicates the opposite. Today's "journalism" has an increasingly solid track record of agenda-driven, unbalanced writing. In keeping with this trend, Ananthaswamy wrote an unbalanced piece.

I've read a fair number of other books on physics (written by researchers, not journalists with zero bona-fides on the subject) and watched several videos geared toward the more curious segment of the public. So, I'm aware of the subject's landscape. Ananthaswamy doesn't seem to share this awareness. Instead, he seems fixated on string theory. It's as if he read some books on it and hasn't read anything else on physics. While string theory is fascinating and complex, Ananthaswamy:

1. Explains it superficially, at best.
2. Proceeds under the assumption it is "the" theory rather than one of several competing theories currently being explored.
3. Gives the impression that all of the current experimentation is based on string theory (it's not).

Balanced coverage of the leading theories that are on the edge of physics would have resulted in a much better book. To fit this in the same page count, the book would need to focus on the core topic without all of the off-topic material that should have been cut anyhow. In places, I wondered what the heck the author's ramblings had to do with the subject--and I'm still wondering.

One good approach in the editing process would have been to remove the string theory comments from the narrative and write an appendix summarizing the leading theories. Then, re-title the book so it reflects the content. This way, the title actually fits the book and if you're interested in the background science you can read an overview.

Some positives:

1. The book is extensively researched. Unlike the typical journalist author, Ananthaswamy used credible sources.

2. The copyrighter (Sara Lippincott) is astoundingly good. There are few errors in the book (well below normal).

3. It's a good read. The prose is smooth and clear (kudos to the editor, Amanda Cook, but she should have cut more material).

This book would make a nice introduction for someone newly interested in what's going on with the General Theory of Relativity today and what it's like to visit some of the sites where experiments and research are taking place. It does not take you to the edge of physics, though it does take you to some edgy places in remote, hostile locations.

This book consists of ten chapters, each of which is devoted to describing the author's visit to a particular research site. Chapter 8, for example, journals his visit to Antarctica.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A journey to ten physics and astronomy experiments Jan. 8 2010
By Michael A. Duvernois - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The title and the marketing materials for the book rather hype the book in a direction it can't match. The book is an excellent examination of ten particular experiments or observatories at the edge of current physics and astronomy research. I can speak to the good coverage of BESS (balloon experiment being launched from McMurdo, Antarctica) and IceCube (neutrino experiment deep in the ice at the South Pole) from personal experience. The author well captures the oddness of working in Antarctica and the excitement of the projects.

The experiments covered are: 1. Mount Wilson Observatory above LA. 2. CDMS (dark matter experiment) in the Soudan Mine, northern Minnesota. 3. Lake Baikal (Russia) neutrino experiment. 4. European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescopes in Chile. 5. Mauna Kea Observatory (Hawaii) focused on the DEIMOS experiment. 6. The SKA (Square Kilometer Array) radio telescope in the Karoo Desert, South Africa. 7. BESS experiment flying out of McMurdo, Antarctica. 8. IceCube at the South Pole. 9. ATLAS detector at CERN's LHC. 10. Planck satellite for measuring the microwave background radiation.

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