For the Science Fans: Ultimate Horizons

September 19, 2014
Author: Helmut Satz
Publisher: Springer
Year: 2013
ISBN: 9783642416576
Rating: ★★★★☆
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This review is written by Dr. D.K.Srivastava, a Distinguished Scientist and Director at the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, Kolkata. Born in 1952 in a remote village in Eastern UP, he joined Bhabha Atomic Research Centre Training School in 1970. He specializes in nuclear theory and is presently interested in studying quark gluon plasma. Apart from his scientific pursuits, he is interested in the study of world literature and has written and published several short stories in English.

Ultimate Horizons is one of the best books, rather narratives, I have read. It discusses at length the evolution of our understanding about our universe and its functioning. In every direction, it explores the ultimate horizon which we have reached and can reach. The discussion is almost lyrical and abounds with poetic phrases like “But the Big-Bang took place a long time ago and the neutron stars are too far away“, while talking of the two places where the conditions for the formation of quark gluon plasma could be present.

The story starts from the very early times when man started thinking about the earth, the planets, the stars, the galaxies. It builds gently and guides us through the scientific theories of the Greeks and later Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, till we come to Newton. Next, the author builds the case for Special Theory of Relativity by trying to understand why the sky is dark at night. This then leads to the expanding universe, finite velocity of light, the Big Bang, constituents of matter, atoms, nuclei, nucleons, quarks and their interaction through gauge bosons. The discussion about black holes is so graphic that I had nightmares of ending up near the edge of the Schwarzschild radius and being torn apart for several days. Hawking radiation is again explained beautifully and so also the so-called Unruh radiation. The concepts of dark matter and dark energy are introduced. Symmetry breaking and then instantaneous symmetry breaking discussions follow and the successive phase transitions during the evolution of the universe follow, almost like the build up of the storyline in an epic or a ballad.

The book is replete with historical and literary references from all the cultures of the world and interesting episodes from the life of the persons involved are hinted at briefly; this ensures that the reader’s interest never wanes. There are passages and sections that are so nicely done that I read them again and again, ultimately reading and enjoying the whole book again before writing this. No expertise is needed and the book can be enjoyed by anyone interested in physics with a formal education of high school or undergraduate science. In an otherwise excellently brought out book, the illustrations are rather rudimentary (for example, the entertaining illustrations in “The Cosmic Onion” by Frank Close). There are a few typographical errors (e.g. the speed of light is given as 3X 10**5 m/s instead of 3X10**8 m/s). The publishers could consider a new edition with bigger fonts and more colourful illustrations, which I am sure will become very popular among students of science. The language is masterly, the style reminding us of a master storyteller sitting by a fire place with a glass of vintage wine or excellent cognac and telling us a story of epic dimensions. I would recommend it as compulsory reading for any one interested in knowing how physics has evolved and where it is going.


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