Wednesday, October 9, 2019

This Year's Nobel Prize in Physics

Jim Peebles was awarded half of this year's prize for his foundational contributions to cosmology.  I've known him for 40 years -- he was my senior thesis advisor at Princeton and had already been the most influential figure in the field long before I met him.

Cosmology was actually a bit of a backwater from the 1930s until the discovery of the cosmic microwave background in 1965.  Peebles had a tangential role in that discovery (look it up -- it's a very famous story), and he played a central role in the development of the field for decades afterwards.  His most influential work has to do with the way that large-scale structure forms in the universe -- how small fluctuations in the density grow with time to give us galaxies and everything that goes with them.  (Peebles was also the best physics teacher at Princeton, at least when I was there).  So this is a well-deserved prize.  Jim is the nicest of all of the geniuses I've met -- and I've met quite a few.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

David Brin speaking at Vanderbilt Sept. 23

David Brin (author of, among others, The Postman, Kiln People, and the Uplift series), will be giving a special colloquium in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University on Monday, Sept. 23, at 4:00 in room 4327 Stevenson Center.  The talk is free and open to the public:

Our place in the Cosmos and Is Anyone Out There? 

In both science and literature, the question of ‘others’ can be a mirror illuminating our own origins and plausible destinies. Are we a fluke? Might we be the first to navigate the minefield of existence? Astrophysicist and novelist David Brin will (briefly) survey both what we know and can speculate about life in the universe.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

More on "Portle"

I have a guest blog post about the origins of "Portle" out at the Analog website. You can read it here.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Guest Commentary on "Portle"

My short story, "Portle", has just appeared in the July/August issue of AnalogI'll have a blog post about the story at the Analog website soon, but in the meantime I have this comment about the story from Adrian Melott, a fellow cosmologist (and collaborator) at the University of Kansas, to share:

In the spirit of literary criticism, this is the meaning of your story, which is a parable about physicists. It is true because I say it is, whether you intended it or not. By writing about it, I will make sure that everyone thinks of it this way.

Physicists couldn't tolerate the grandiose vision implied by the many-worlds understanding of quantum mechanics. Retreating from this, they narrowed their consciousness. This is called "collapse of the wave function". What happened to the little girl is a metaphor for the Copenhagen Interpretation.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Does Science Fiction Predict the Future?

Well, does it? I address this question in a brief article over at the online Observations section of Scientific American.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Most Famous Person You Would Never Recognize in a Photo

Think of the most famous people of the past 100 years:  Einstein, Churchill, Gandhi.  All of them, and hundreds more, are instantly recognizable from their photos:

So here is a question to ponder: who is the most famous person of the past century whom most people would never recognize from a photo? I have a nominee -- it's this guy:

Do you recognize him? Who is it? I'm being a little unfair here, as he became famous at a much younger age. Try this photo instead:

Time to guess: who are we talking about?

Friday, February 1, 2019

New Things in Analog

I've just had a couple of items accepted by AnalogThe first is a nonfiction article that discusses the similarities and differences between "doing" theoretical physics and coming up with new ideas for science fiction. (I need to specify here that my cosmology research does not fall under the category of "science fiction"). And the second is the short story to which I alluded here. I can't tell you what it's about -- you'll just have to wait and see.