The Sky is Falling

How likely is it that an asteroid or a comet of significant size will impact the earth, and what would be the consequences? It is now widely accepted that the dinosaurs were wiped out by such an event, and recent research suggests that previous estimates of the number of asteroid impacts may have been much too low.

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments

Lists of "the best" movies, books, sports stars, American Idols, etc. etc. are often intriguing and controversial. Science has its own lists, be they Nobelists or most-cited publications. Just a little while ago (could it really have been November, 2005?) Philip Ball's list of "elegant" chemistry experiments was my choice of the month.

The Copernican Myths

When asked by one of our students about the significance of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) and his revolutionary (pun intended) theory of the solar system, most of us would recite the folkloric tale. A brilliant astronomer, dissatisfied with the inaccuracies of Ptolemy, devised a completely new model for the solar system.

Four Laws That Drive the Universe

This little book is a gem. I have to admit that most of the students who have completed my first physical chemistry semester, which is all about thermodynamics, would benefit from reading this wonderful explanation of the central place that these topics play in every aspect of life.

Einstein: His Life and Universe

What were personal qualities of the greatest scientist of the twentieth century that differentiated him from his contemporaries? I have read a lot of books about Albert Einstein, who was one of my childhood heroes (along with the Lone Ranger).

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

I am old enough to remember the 1954 hearings in the matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, but I was too young to understand that there was more to this story about a supposed Communist in the nuclear weapons program than was being reported in the Los Angeles newspapers of the time.

Fantastic Realities: 49 Mind Journeys and a Trip to Stockholm

Fantastic Realities is an adult book. Much of it consists of issues of the "Reference Frame" column that Professor Wilczek, 2004 Nobel laureate in physics, writes for his colleagues in Physics Today. In writing for that audience, Wilczek addresses fellow scientists who are expected to be familiar with "ordinary" physics, but not his specialty, quantum chromodynamics.

Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another

Why is society organized the way it is? Is it possible to use some of the laws of the physical universe to understand why and how national economies, stock and commodity markets, companies and clubs organize the way they do? Can physics provides "laws" of human nature that are as useful and universal as those of mechanics?