A tour of the exotic and remote outposts where scientists seek answers to the great mysteries: “A thrilling ride around the globe and around the cosmos.” —Sean Carroll, author of From Eternity to Here
In The Edge of Physics, a science writer journeys to the ends of the Earth—visiting remote and sometimes dangerous places—in search of the telescopes and detectors that promise to answer the biggest questions in modern cosmology.
Anil Ananthaswamy treks to the Atacama Desert in the Chilean Andes, one of the coldest, driest places on the planet, where not even a blade of grass can survive, and the spectacularly clear skies and dry atmosphere allow astronomers to gather brilliant images of galaxies billions of light-years away. He takes us inside the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere’s Very Large Telescope on Mount Paranal, where four massive domes open to the sky each night “like a dragon waking up.”
Ananthaswamy also heads deep inside an abandoned iron mine in Minnesota—where half-mile-thick rock shields physicists as they hunt for elusive dark matter particles. And to the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, where engineers are drilling 1.5 miles into the clearest ice on the planet. They are building the world’s largest neutrino detector, which could finally help reconcile quantum physics with Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The stories of the people who work at these and other research sites make for a compelling new portrait of the universe—and our quest to understand it.
“From the top of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea to Switzerland’s Large Hadron Collider and more, Ananthaswamy paints a vivid picture of scientific investigations in harsh working conditions. . . . Even for readers who don’t know a neutrino from Adam, these interesting tales of human endeavor make The Edge of Physics a trip worth taking.” —Bookpage
“Ananthaswamy journeys to several geographically and scientifically extreme outposts, and returns not only with engaging portraits of the men and women who work there, but also a vibrant glimpse of how cutting-edge research is actually performed. Part history lesson, part travelogue, part adventure story, ‘The Edge of Physics’ is a wonder-steeped page-turner.” —Seed Magazine
“Ananthaswamy displays a writer’s touch for the fascinating detail.” —The Washington Post
Despite 20th-century physics' revelations, from relativity and quantum mechanics to the physics of the atom's nucleus and the life cycles of stars, ninety-odd percent of the universe is a complete mystery, says a scientist quoted by Ananthaswamy, a consulting editor for New Scientist. Dark matter, dark energy, quantum gravity: these are the topics that keep physicists awake at night, requiring bigger, more massive, more extreme experiments to test theories and uncover clues. The author takes readers behind the scenes of these experiments in some of the most inhospitable places in the world, leading the tour with wit and an eye for compelling detail. First is a pilgrimage to Mount Wilson Observatory, where astronomers first measured the expansion of the universe. Next we go 2,341 feet underground in a defunct Minnesota iron mine to search for particles that could reveal dark matter. Sensitive telescopes embedded in the thick ice of Siberia's Lake Baikal and Antarctica search for neutrinos. These experiments and others are heroic in every sense, and Ananthaswamy captures their excitement and the personalities of the scientists behind them with enthusiasm and insight. Illus.