Monday, December 6, 2010

Book Review: And Yet It Moves

Today I finished reading And Yet It Moves: strange systems and subtle questions in Physics by Mark P. Silverman. I found this book particularly interesting as it introduced me to quantum phenomenon which previously weren't very familiar to me. The author being a research physicist has first hand experience with the topics he discusses. Several experiments are descibed including the wave like propagation of electrons in the two-slit experiment describing the familiar wave interference effect and the Aharonov-Bohm effect and other subtle behaviour of electrons. To me the nature of this particle is somewhat still not understood. Some texts for example will describe the electron as point-like as today's experiments give no measurable size of this particle (the classical electron radius is given as 10-13 cm), however there is no such thing as a point-like entity (and no such as thing as a mathematical singularity in nature for that matter which rules out infinities as well, the Universe is not infinite) so suffice to say the electron must have a size albeit very small and unmeasurable with current technology.

The author goes on to describe some exotic atoms describing some which can be nearly the size of bacteria!, the physics of light reflections, light polarisation, the Mach-Zehnder interferometer, the amazing (check this out!)  Vortex Tube and other interesting subtle effects. The author asks on p204:

"Can the rotation of the Earth influence the structure of an atom?"
And goes on to discuss biomolecular chirality ie why living things make and use specific types of molecules such as right-handed sugar molecules or left-handed amino acids (this isn't understood, Earth evolutionary reasons?). The last chapter "Science and wonder" gives a personal account on various issues with science education, from the last page:

"To teach science well, one must have the philosophical attitudes of a scientist: to see science as culturally important, technically useful and aesthetically moving; to understand that the pursuit and acquisition of scientific knowledge helps free the mind from the bondage of ignorance, superstition and prejudice; to have a driving curiosity to comprehend the reason that manifests itself in nature and to enjoy sharing this curiosity with others.
  Einstein's eloquent words say it all:
The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle."
Great book, definately recommend reading it, got me chasing up some of the references at the back as well.

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