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Fantastic Realities: 49 Mind Journeys And a Trip to Stockholm [Paperback]

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Item description for Fantastic Realities: 49 Mind Journeys And a Trip to Stockholm by Betsy Devine...

The fantastic reality that is modern physics is open for your exploration, guided by one of its primary architects and interpreters, Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek.

Some jokes, some poems, and extracts from wife Betsy Devine's sparkling chronicle of what it's like to live through a Nobel Prize provide easy entertainment. There's also some history, some philosophy, some exposition of frontier science, and some frontier science, for your lasting edification.

49 pieces, including many from Wilczek's award-winning Reference Frame columns in Physics Today, and some never before published, are gathered by style and subject into a dozen chapters, each with a revealing, witty introduction.

Profound ideas, presented with style: What could be better? Enjoy.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: World Scientific Publishing Company
Pages   522
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 6.25" Height: 9.25"
Weight:   2.05 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 13, 2006
Publisher   World Scientific Publishing Company
ISBN  9812566554  
ISBN13  9789812566553  

Availability  0 units.

More About Betsy Devine

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Currently the Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics at MIT, Frank Wilczek won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004. His 1989 book, Longing for the Harmonies, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Wilczek's work has been anthologized in Best American Science Writing and The Norton Anthology of Light Verse. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Frank Wilczek has an academic affiliation as follows - MIT.

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2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Professionals & Academics > Scientists
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Reviews - What do customers think about Fantastic Realities: 49 Mind Journeys And a Trip to Stockholm?

Mass without mass  Jul 5, 2006
Frank Wilczek's book opens your mind to new frontiers. I was particularly shocked to learn that the components of protons and neutrons, the building blocks of all atom nuclei, where the mass of atoms is concentrated, have very small rest mass so that practically all proton mass comes from Einstein's formula E/c2=m. In a sense we are all ethereal criatures. The other shocking idea regarding the Higgs particle, hopefully soon to be discovered at CERN, is that the Universe acts as a superconductor.

However, the book is a collection of articles written, if not for experts, for scientifically sophisticated readers and laymen will find it hard to read.
Review from the "Not Even Wrong" blog  May 23, 2006
Frank Wilczek's new book is a great read by one of the best in the business for anyone interested in physics and should be accessible to people with a wide variety of backgrounds. The book consists of a collection of 43 short pieces, most of which have been published elsewhere (often as "Reference Frame" columns in Physics Today), broken into 11 sections, each with a short introduction. The writing is exceptionally well-informed, elegant, lucid, and thought-provoking.

There's also a section of 6 original poems, which I'll not comment on since I'm not a literary critic, as well as a final section of extracts from Wilczek's wife Betsy Devine's blog Funny Ha-Ha or Funny Peculiar?. The blog entries explain exactly what it's like to be a family member of a Nobel prize winner, and contain lots of useful tips for you and your fellow family members should you ever win a Nobel prize and need to know exactly how to prepare for your trip to Stockholm. I hope I won't be damaging sales of the book by noting that they're available on-line.

Wilczek started out his career with a bang, discovering the asymptotic freedom of Yang-Mills theory in joint work with his advisor David Gross. He was thinking of this work in terms of perhaps showing that the SU(2) part of the new electro-weak gauge theory of Weinberg and Salam might not have the same problem that QED had (effective coupling growing at short distances, invalidating perturbation theory), but Gross was thinking more about the strong interactions and the short-distance scaling behavior recently observed at SLAC. If it could be shown that Yang-Mills theories also had effective couplings that grew at short distances like all other known QFTs, that would rule out QFT as a theory of the strong interactions. The discovery of asymptotic freedom made it clear that Yang-Mills theories might provide a successful strong interaction theory, and there was one obvious choice for the right theory: QCD.

Many of Wilczek's pieces deal with QCD in one way or another, from explaining his original work with Gross, to more recent developments concerning high temperature (relevant to heavy-ion collider experiments) and high density versions of the theory. He also explains some of the beautiful data that has accumulated over the past more than thirty years since its discovery that give us impressive evidence for the validity of QCD. Wilczek puts QCD into a more general context, explaining how logarithmic running of coupling constants can explain the small size of the strong interaction scale when compared to the scale of a putative GUT or even the Planck scale. Besides QCD, he provides excellent discussions of the rest of the standard model, the electroweak theory.

In several different pieces about beyond the standard model physics, Wilczek emphasizes two pieces of evidence that we have for some sort of GUT scenario. One is the fact that if you take the 16 dimensional half-spinor representation of SO(10), under the SU(5) subgroup it decomposes as 1 + 5 + 10, giving all the standard model fields of one generation (including a right-handed neutrino), but in a single irreducible representation. The second is the calculation (that he did in 1981 with Dimopoulos and Raby) of the running coupling constants for the supersymmetric SU(5) GUT, which show much closer unification of the three couplings at a single energy than in the non-supersymmetric case.

These two facts are definitely the strongest evidence around for the idea of a supersymmetric GUT, an idea which has dominated thinking about beyond the standard model physics for nearly 30 years, but they are far from convincing. Wilczek deals with the other main idea that has dominated the field, string theory, by essentially ignoring it. I only noticed one or two mentions of string theory in passing in the book. He's not taking a position pro or con on the subject, just deciding that other things are more worth writing about.

The longer pieces in the book are among the best, including a piece on the Dirac equation, written for a book on the most beautiful equations, and pieces on fractional charge quantization and quantum field theory in general, which are a bit more technical than the others. Wilczek brings in interesting historical context to most of the things he writes about, often in an original way.

Perhaps my favorite piece is one entitled "What is Quantum Theory?", which deals with one of my obsessions. Wilczek claims that perhaps we still don't properly understand the significance of quantum theory, especially what it has to do with symmetries. He notes that Hermann Weyl, soon after the discovery of quantum mechanics, realized that the Heisenberg commutation relations are the relations of a Lie algebra (called the Heisenberg Lie algebra), and this exponentiates to a symmetry group (the Heisenberg group to mathematicians, Weyl group to physicists). Wilczek goes on to speculate that:

The next level in understanding may come when an overarching symmetry is found, melding the conventional symmetries and Weyl's symmetry of quantum kinematics (made more specific, and possibly modified) into an organic whole.
Frank Wilczek : Fantastic Realities  May 4, 2006
This is a wonderfully thought provoking book.

Frank Wilczek is that rarest of breeds, a lucid physicist. Working in Feynman's tradition, i.e. raising the communication of physics into the literary canon. (Yes, this reviewer believes the Lectures on Physics should be included in the literary canon.)

Collecting a series of articles published in Physics Today's Reference Frame, Nature and other journals, Wilczek has tackled topics such as: The nature of force, The origin of mass, Einsteins Equations, Diracs Equation, Quantum Theory, QED and QCD; Subjects at the core of physics and cosmology, and, to which he has been a seminal contributor. It ends with a delightful description of winning the Physics Prize and the Nobel Awards ceremony, in the voice of Betsy Devine, of Funny Ha Ha or Funny Peculiar?

These discussions, crafted in a clear manner, are reminiscent of the elegance of the physics itself, an elegance often unrecognized by those who don't appreciate mathematical subtlety or it's inherent beauty. In this, it helps to have a guide who has a deep understanding of the subject, and takes such obvious pleasure communicating it.

Another thing I love about this book? Like Feynman, Wilczek challenges the creative, artists, writers and others, to intellectually grapple with the beauty of physics, either as expressed in the gaseous giant planets or, in this case, the proton and it's extraordinary symmetries. Then? To use this understanding in their own work.

As a poet, I am particularily delighted with the poems included in this volume. Since Lucretius, using poetry to elucidate physics has been severely lacking. We need more of this.

As an avid reader of these pieces, I have wished they were collected in one place. Now they have. Because of this? Wilczek will significantly influence the understanding of physics among the educated lay in this post modern age, and on, into the future.

I strongly recommend this book.

Review of Fantastic Realities by Frank Wilczek  Apr 16, 2006
Fantastic Realities is a remarkable and engaging book, and will provide illuminating insights, whether you are an intelligent layperson seeking to improve your knowledge of the physical universe or a practicing physicist on the forefront of research. The book consists of a succession of bite-sized articles, containing pearls of encapsulated wisdom. Two of the most lustrous of these, in my opinion, included 1) an amazingly lucid and simple derivation of the Dirac equation of relativistic quantum mechanics, and 2) an explanation of the origin of the proton's mass. There are actually very few equations contained within this book, but it is by no means as "watered-down" as many popularized books on science. On the contrary, Dr. Wilczek gives you a glimpse of the current thinking in the field, where the concepts are not elementary (even if the fundamental particles are!). Like Richard Feynman before him, Frank Wilczek not only leads you by the hand to a better grasp of ideas such as broken symmetry, but also takes you to the leading edge of theoretical physics development and shares how a Nobel prize-winning scientist thinks about problems. Even facts that one has heard many times before take on a fresh meaning, such as when he describes how the indistinguishability of electrons results from the fact that they are excitations of the same pervasive, universe-filling quantum field. Throughout, Wilczek vividly conveys his appreciation for the grandeur and beauty of our universe. He also sprinkles witticisms and anecdotes (including an interesting one relating a discussion with Feynman) throughout the book, which lightens the reading and makes it entertaining as well as instructive. After digesting the contents of this remarkable book, the reader will have a much better idea of what it means to imagine that "the world is a multilayered, multicolored, cosmic superconductor." In short, this is an impressive collection of essays, and reading Fantastic Realities will help you cultivate a deeper understanding of the universe at its most fundamental level.

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