Web edition: March 26, 2010
Print edition: April 10, 2010; Vol.177 #8 (p. 28)
Astronomers once had the most romantic job in science. Working alone atop a rickety telescope platform, the astronomer was like a sailor in a crow’s nest, unspooling the universe’s secrets by hand. But with advances in computers and the advent of space telescopes, it has become much easier to decode the cosmos from an air-conditioned office.
In The Edge of Physics, Ananthaswamy shows that the really big questions — What is dark matter? Why is the universe’s expansion accelerating? Where does mass come from? Are there other universes? — still have a sense of adventure. Part physics primer and part travel epic, the book takes readers to some of the most desolate places on Earth. Ananthaswamy looks for the frontiers of understanding in such unlikely places as an abandoned mine in Minnesota and a frigid lake in Siberia, and from the underground lair of the Large Hadron Collider to the thin-aired peak of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. He finds that retreating from light and noise is sometimes the only way to achieve the level of clarity these questions demand, both clarity of data and clarity of mind.
Ananthaswamy, a science writer and editor, smoothly weaves together the stories of people who help push science forward, from principal investigators to research institute gardeners, with exquisitely clear explanations of the questions they hope to solve — and why some research can be done only at the edge of the world.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade, 2010, 336 p., $25