Having reviewed several books on quantum mechanics over the years here, it’s a subject that I do have some understanding about. Although, as is often pointed out by physicists, just because you think you know something about quantum mechanics, doesn’t mean you know anything.
Michael S. Walker’s book, ‘Quantum Fuzz’, combines the history of the subject with the physicists who worked on it with the theory with a promise to keep the maths to a minimum. This must also be the first book I’ve come across where you can mostly read text, photo and diagrams in order without having to switch back and forth between them. Mostly. Occasionally, Walker will refer to a photo of a physicist that you’ve already seen or a diagram on the previous or next page but that’s rare. It’s a little disconcerting when he shifts to smaller size print of biographies and referenced material because your brain will tend to think the information is of secondary importance and it really isn’t.
The potent message in the Foreword by David Toback is quoting Carl Sagan in that we are living in a science and technological world and yet few people know much about how any of it really works. I suspect that’s even more true today. Whether or not it’s true of SF readers is more questionable but we should never be afraid about knowing more about these things to widen our knowledge.
Quantum mechanics is deeply involved in all our silicon-based technology which means everything from your watch, television, phone, tablet, computer and anything which has a silicon-chip working it depends on this knowledge. Without the discoveries from the 24 physicists in this book at the time they did them, you wouldn’t have any of them. I would add on top of that that this would probably have happened eventually, just not with many of the names you should know from this book. As is pointed out, many of them didn’t receive Noble Prizes because they aren’t rewarded to the dead. Considering how many dead people are exonerated after their demise these days, a little late praise in that department is long over-due.
Don’t forget, quantum mechanics also opened up the possibilities in Science Fiction for alternative realities. Teleportation is possible but only as far as sending the information to configure matter to an appearance like the original. It did present me with an original thought that if teleportation was ever to become possible it would need a new level of scientific understanding and laws which would revolutionise what we know. Teleportation has the same problem as time travel, namely you have to take into account the distance the universe has expanded to where you are going to appear, unless you like dying in a vacuum, so has to be part of any equation. Of course, entanglement might get around this.
By far, the biggest chapter in the book looks at the structure of the universe and looking at Nobel Prize winners Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias discovery of the constant microwave noise of the universe by accident was ahead of the scientists trying to find the link. This makes a strong argument not to limit scientific investigation or access to information.
Although chemistry has its place in quantum mechanics, it felt like old times being run through the basics of the Periodic Table and chemical bonding and being totally engrossed for nearly an hour.
The last sections of the book devote themselves to practical application which means the silicon chip/semiconductors, superconductors and graphene. If you thought the later was a new material, then you’ll be surprised to find it was originally discovered in 1962 but not rediscovered until 2004. Considering its the strongest and lightest material, it’s an over-sight long needed to be rectified.
As I said at the beginning of this review, you can never know enough about quantum mechanics. Walker even references some of the books I’ve covered here in the past and if you’re followed any of those, then this one shouldn’t create too many problems reading it. This book is even easier to grasp. If nothing else, it acts as a good refresher course on basic chemistry even if it did look a little odd seeing the Periodic Table upside-down. Understanding the nature of matter makes it easier to make use of it in our technology. The younger generations amongst us might be inspired to take up quantum mechanics applications for a career.
(pub: Prometheus Books. 417 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: $28.00 (US), $29.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-239-3. Ebook: Price: $11.99 (US), $13.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-240-9)
check out website: www.prometheusbooks.com