Thursday, November 26, 2009

A review of Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe by Leon M. Lederman and Christopher T. Hill

Title : Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe
Author :           Leon M. Lederman, Christopher T. Hill
Publisher:   Prometheus Books
.                      59 John Glenn Drive
.                      Amherst, NY 14228
ISBN:        978-1-59102-575-7

I took my time reading “Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe” by Leon M. Lederman, a
nobel laureate physicist and Christopher T. Hill, who both work for Fermi National
Accelerator Laboratory. I’m glad I did. At the heart of this work is the mathematical
proofs that Emma Noether undertook to show that basic laws of physics are symmetrical,
i.e. they do not change due to time or space, and that when applied to a system,
afterwards,  the system is exactly the same as it was before. These authors pay their
respects to Noether by going through each and every one of the proofs, in concept but not
mathematically to lead them eventually to a discussion of quantum mechanics. They also
explain her background, her interaction with Einstein, her fight through the glass-ceiling
to become a lecturer in Germany, her dismissal by the Nazi’s because she was a Jew and
move to the US, and her eventual death due to ovarian cancer. Along the way, they
provide coherent examples about how the laws of physics are applied in everyday life, in
astronomy and in the particle accelerator laboratory.

The topics covered in this book include: the conservation of momentum, inertia, energy,
and relativity. They explain the tests used to verify the law in the macro-universe and in
the micro-universe with particles. And they explain about how the laws of physics were
used to deduce the presence of additional particles when the puzzle of missing energy and
mass arose and how the answers were eventually uncovered. Throughout, the history of
the scientists that contributed along the path of discovery are explained.

It may sound a bit dry, and I can’t help but agree, but the authors also have a sense of
humor. They share good financial advice about how to not buy into stocks when the
company clearly violates the laws of physics. They also share tidbits about science
findings that are fascinating, especially in their tale of the Oklo nuclear reactors.

For me a test of a good book is, did I learn something new? For me, the answer was yes.
To many people with a moderate background in science, the answer will likely be the
same. What fascinated me was the practical descriptions about how quantum particles are
tested and how the results were uncovered. Very little math is used in the descriptions
so that any reader can follow with ease, the explanations very conversational.

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