PHYSICS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE: A SCIENTIFIC EXPLORATION INTO THE WORLD OF PHASERS, FORCE FIELDS, TELEPORTATION, AND TIME TRAVEL
by Michio Kaku. Doubleday, 2008
“If at first an idea does not sound absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Einstein’s words make an apt motif for Kaku’s premise: just because something is impossible today doesn’t mean it will be impossible in the future. Kaku—a well-known theoretical physicist at the City University of New York and an accomplished writer—reminds us of how fantastic the World Wide Web would have seemed in 1908. He goes on to discuss a number of currently impossible technologies, categorizing them into technologies that are not doable today but may be so in the foreseeable future; those that are impossible in the foreseeable future but do not violate the laws of physics; and those that violate the laws of physics as we know them today. In the first category, for example, a combination of several technologies—a supercharged plasma window, a curtain of high-energy laser beams and a screen of carbon nanotubes—might one day create a realistic force field, not unlike the one Captain Kirk summoned with “Shields up!” in countless episodes of Star Trek.
TRYING LEVIATHAN: THE NINETEENTH-CENTURY NEW YORK COURT CASE THAT PUT THE WHALE ON TRIAL AND CHALLENGED THE ORDER OF NATURE
by D. Graham Burnett. Princeton University Press, 2007
Burnett, who teaches history at Princeton, tells the strange story of an 1818 trial that set in opposition the new science of taxonomy and the biblically sanctioned view that the whale is a fish. The immediate dispute was whether whale oil is fish oil and therefore subject to various regulations, but the grander implications did indeed challenge the order of nature. And just as in the 2005 trial in Dover, Pa., that pitted evolution against intelligent design, the whale trial fueled a sensational public debate in which a parade of colorful experts took the witness stand. This wonderfully detailed book is aimed at scholars, and the story awaits a more popular telling, maybe even its own Inherit the Wind.
THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING ANTIMATTER
by Helen R. Quinn and Yossi Nir. Princeton University Press, 2008
EXCERPT: In addition to the stuff we call matter, physicists have identified another category of material called antimatter, but they can find very little of it in nature. In this elegantly written book, two physicists guide readers through cutting-edge scientific developments that aim to figure out what happened to antimatter:
“This much we do know: The fate of antimatter to disappear was sealed by the time the Universe was no older than a millionth of a second. At that time, matter particles and antiparticles were both still very abundant, but there must have been a tiny edge for particles over antiparticles, about one extra particle for every ten billion particle-antiparticle pairs. This tiny excess is all that matter needed for a total victory over antimatter in the present Universe. All the visible structures in the Universe that we observe today—planets, stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies—are made from that surplus of particles over antiparticles....
“What laws of nature, not yet manifest in experiments and not part of our current Standard Model, were active in the early Universe, allowing the observed amount of matter to persist while all antimatter disappeared from the Universe?”