The Quantum Universe

profbriancox-webI was sat on a train once and the man next to me was very obviously reading over my shoulder. I was reading The Quantum Universe (And Why Anything That Can Happen Does) by Professor Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. I smiled, thinking for sure he’d stop reading once he realized it was a book on quantum physics, but he read over my shoulder for twenty minutes! As I got up to get off the train, he told me, “I never trust those popular science books that don’t have math equations. You can’t understand quantum mechanics without math.”

I retorted, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”

He said, “Yes! Richard Feynman said that.”

“Yeah…I know.”

1325019537quantum_aloneThere actually are math equations in The Quantum Universe, but the authors go out of their way to footnote them so that you don’t need to understand the math to understand the basic concepts in the book, and thank God for that. I was an English major, and as easy to follow as Cox and Forshaw make basic quantum, the math does my head in. You probably won’t find the book as easy to understand as some of Professor Brian Cox’s TV science programs, but it is written for the general audience, so even if you only have the most basic of science lessons under your belt, you should be able to wrap your head around most of it.

I think that my favorite revelation in the book is that, unlike macro-sized things in the universe, electrons can (and do) exist in more than one place at once. I don’t mean that it moves so fast that it appears to exist in more than one place at once, I mean that it literally does. Electrons break Neuton’s laws, which do a good job at explaining the macro universe, but not the quantum one. Electrons, for example can decide not to stay in motion even if not acted upon by an outside force. Imagine that!

This is an excellent summary of the book, “A Night with the Stars,” written and presented by Professor Brian Cox, which includes celebrity guests like James May being set on fire, Simon Pegg making a few wanking jokes, and Jonathan Ross getting baffled by numerical equations.

Jaime Pond is the editor of Anglonerd. She lives and works in NYC. Follow her on Twitter.

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