Monday, 2 August 2010

Book addict on Quantum

'Addicted to books' blogger Tracy had this to say about Quantum:

'This book is a gem, a history of quantum mechanics, not just about Einstein and Bohr, but about those other giants of physics and their discoveries - Planck's original accidental discovery of the quantum, Rutherford's discovery of the atomic nucleus, de Broglie's wave-particle duality, Pauli's exclusion principle, Heisenberg's uncertaintly principle, and Schrödinger's wave equation (and infamous cat). More than this, Kumar's book brings those Nobel prize-winning scientists to life - Heisenberg's rivalry with Schrödinger, Pauli, the sharp-witted Austrian who rarely surfaced before noon, de Broglie, both a German prince and a French duke and the quiet Englishman Dirac, bullied by his overbearing father.

Having brought you up to speed on the nature of quantum mechanics, lucidly explaining both the experimental evidence and the thought experiments beloved of Einstein, the author then hits you with the real argument, the interpretation of quantum mechanics: What does it really mean? What is the nature of reality? In the 'observer-independent reality, quantum theory is incomplete ' corner was Einstein, whereas Bohr and the majority of quantum physicists at the time were very much in the 'probablistic, observer-dependent reality' corner - Einstein's famous argument that 'God does not play dice with the Universe' countered by Bohr's response of 'But still, it cannot be for us to tell God, how he is to run the world.' And still the debate continues.

Manjit Kumar's book explains the science and the arguments beautifully-clearly and fairly. Highly recommended to anyone who likes science history and essential reading for anyone who is studying any kind of science. The kind of book that really does make you feel slightly more intelligent after you've read it, for a few weeks, anyway, until you forget Pauli's exclusion principle (no two electrons in an atom can occupy the same quantum state), de Broglie's equation linking wavelength and momentum gradually fades, Planck's constant, h, draws a blank and all you're left remembering is Schrödinger's cat, his famous thought experiment about a cat in a box, whose fate is determined by random radioactive decay of an atom.'

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