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Science Books

January 4, 2008

Symmetry And The Beautiful Universe
Leon M. Lederman & Christopher T. Hill (2008)

Images of the universe may appear to the casual observer as an example of complete and utter chaos, but nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that everything in the universe runs to a constant, ubiquitous set of physical laws, known to physicists as symmetry. Drawing upon the early work of a talented German mathematician named Emmy Noether - a key player in the origins of symmetry - Lederman and Hill clearly explain how symmetry not only affects the universe as a whole, but also the consequences that it has for life on Earth. Lederman, a Nobel Laureate, is no stranger to making the highly complex nature of the universe accessible, and has delighted both lay readers and scientists alike with his best-selling book The God Particle. It's no surprise then that Lederman and Hill, a theoretical physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, do a remarkable job in explaining the foundational mathematics behind Noether's important work on symmetry. Noether proved that the law of conservation of energy was linked to symmetry and Lederman and Hill's own research has led to some previously unknown concepts on symmetry, which are likely to have an impact on Big Bang theory, the theory of relativity, and quantum mechanics. Symmetry And The Beautiful Universe challenges the idea that physics has reached an impasse and that our concept of the universe has become static.

The Void
Frank Close (2008)
ISBN: 0199225907

Common sense seems to tell us that nothing is the opposite of something, but what do we mean when we refer to nothing? For eons the greatest minds have pondered the void - whether it exists, and whether it ever existed. Aristotle reasoned that the existence of absolutely nothing, a vacuum, was impossible, favoring instead the concept of an ether-like substance permeating the universe. In this little gem of a book, Frank Close, a Professor of Physics at Oxford University and a Fellow of Exeter College, takes an historical look at how humanity has approached the idea of the void. During his explorations, Close examines some of the ancient superstitions regarding nothingness, introduces us to the theories of Newton, Mach, and Einstein, and considers what modern science has to say on the curly subject of the void. Despite the fact that modern science has spent much of its time accepting nothingness as a reality, Close says that current research into the Higgs Field - comprised of the elusive Higgs Boson particle, which supposedly permeates every place in the universe simultaneously - actually harks back to ancient concepts of the ether. In fact, physicists now know that what we once knew as the void is actually packed full of virtual particles and anti-particles. But does this extraordinary revelation help us answer the question of whether there was ever a time when nothing existed, and how nothing could ever lead to the beginning of the universe?

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