The Quantum Zoo – A Tourist’s Guide to the Neverending Universe

Article Updated: 30 Oct , 2006
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Modern physics! Who knows where it’s going? Objects so small that we can never see them. Strings that vibrate with the resonance of life. A universe so big and growing, yet starting from no more than a dot. Surely all this is too much! Not so. Marcus Chown in his book, ‘The Quantum Zoo – A Tourist’s Guide to the Neverending Universe’ provides simple analogies and fun derivations to bring sense to all this. After all, physics is simply the science of observation, so there shouldn’t be anything holding back an inquisitive person.

Modern physics! Who knows where it’s going? Objects so small that we can never see them. Strings that vibrate with the resonance of life. A universe so big and growing, yet starting from no more than a dot. Surely all this is too much! Not so. Marcus Chown in his book, The Quantum Zoo – A Tourist’s Guide to the Neverending Universe provides simple analogies and fun derivations to bring sense to all this. After all, physics is simply the science of observation, so there shouldn’t be anything holding back an inquisitive person.

The results of modern physics lie all about us. Plasma television screens, magnetic levitation trains and nuclear reactors give us entertainment, transportation and electrical power. Most of us take these marvels as standard fair, as their function has been reduced to little more than simple switches. We’re so spoiled that our expectations of research laboratories are for a regular presentation of new toys for amusement or aid. Few people care to understand the reasoning and physical basis for these marvels or, worse, are scared of these technological marvels. Yet they’re nothing more than applications of what is happening everyday about us. There’s no reason why the person on the street can’t be a little bit wiser, for physics, the power of observation, is nothing to fear.

Marcus Chown figures a guide is all that’s needed to help people with physics. Thus, his book takes this role. He makes ideas fun and visual, such as describing a Ferrari which ‘Houdini-like’ escapes a garage. Such is his introduction for a chapter leading into wave theory and probabilities. His photons strike a comet’s tail like the atmosphere against a windsock. Or, pollen grains get moved by water molecules the same way many hands push a giant inflatable rubber ball about a field. By continually using everyday language and colourful examples like these, Chown delivers a fresh review of modern physics.

If a fresh review was the goal of this book, Chown’s succeeded. He considers light, quantum mechanics, the big bang and most other ideas recently ensconced in our perception of truth. However, if a reader were to be looking for a bit more depth, it’s not present. Chown does add tidbits, such as how antimatter would be a great propellant for spaceships or that time travel is theoretically possible, though improbable. Yet, its up to the reader to link the fascinating subjects into their day to day lives. Thus, though this book makes reading about physics very easy, it is defintetly popularizing science. As such, it is fresh, but it may not linger.

This book would be great for a non-scientists looking for more. This is true especially for those who believe too much of what they see on television. Transporters, space travel at light speed and near limitless power supplies get considered. Whether old or young, the reader will get a great appreciation of that which surrounds us and how so much of it is tied together. This book should also give them an appreciation of the difficulties and rewards of today’s researchers.

Though Chown doesn’t link modern physics into our everyday lives, it’s not really his fault. It’s more the fault of general disinterest. In this regard, Chown’s book is a perfect response. This book does make modern physics interesting and surmountable. It shows the skill of a professional writer, which Chown is. It also shows the great interest in the subject which Chown has shown via his many other books and journal contributions. As such, this book would be a great gift to someone even slightly technically inclined who does want to know more about this existence in which we find ourselves.

Physics is the science that orders our observations. We invent words like mass, light and energy to represent fundamental features. These are words of common day speech, so modern physics can be described with such. Marcus Chown does so in his book ‘The Quantum Zoo – A Tourist’s Guide to the Neverending Universe‘. He ably puts modern physics into order and a smile on a reader’s understanding face.

Read more reviews online, or purchase a copy from Amazon.com.

Review by Mark Mortimer


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