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State of Quantum Physics
December 18, 2003 10:13 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to read a readable, yet not dumbed-down account of the current state of quantum physics, addressing the famous paradoxes and directions modern research is taking. Any recommendations? [more inside]

I'm a mathematician by training but not a physicist, and I'm inspired to ask this question because I just finished reading Paradigms Lost (and its sequel) by John L. Casti and found his explanations less than clear. I'm not sure if this was my fault or his. I guess I'm probably looking for something less technical than a journal article, but more rigorous than the science section of the New York Times. Please help me!
posted by evinrude to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How about Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe?
posted by obloquy at 11:48 PM on December 18, 2003

My physics major SO recommends:
John Gribben's Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality (1995), The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything (1998), In Search of Scrodinger's Cat (1984),
Kip S. Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps (1994),
and Nigel Calder Einstin's Universe (1990).
posted by stoneegg21 at 12:34 AM on December 19, 2003

I'd recommend the online proceedings of something like the Lepton-Photon 2003 conference. Video and presentations are all online.

Much of it is more accesible than you might think (ignore the occasional intractable graph) since these are just overviews.

Try Witten's talk for example (which I saw.) Also this answers the second part of your question - the concerns of modern research: Tau measurements, Supersymmetry and the search for the Higgs boson, QCD theories, Neutrino physics, Kaon decay (CPT theorem validation), electro-weak interactions, Dark Energy... It's all there.
posted by vacapinta at 2:35 AM on December 19, 2003

the last chapter of rae is quite good, although perhaps it's out of date by now - . since it's part of a textbook, it's not full of fluff, but it left a good impression (i'm not at home, so can't check it now).
posted by andrew cooke at 3:47 AM on December 19, 2003

I should qualify this by saying that I know nothing about quantum physics, but my brother (who does know about quantum physics) asked for the book Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed by Jim Al-Khalili for Christmas.
posted by chill at 5:23 AM on December 19, 2003

Second the recommendation for The Elegant Universe. I have to confess I didn't finish the book, I only got about 2/3rds the way through due to time and other factors, but what I did read of it was very well written and enjoyable. Brian Greene has a knack of using appropriate and elegant analogies to explain difficult concepts like compactified dimensions.
posted by adrianhon at 6:08 AM on December 19, 2003

I like the dated, but still useful Quantum Mechanics and the Particles of Nature : An Outline for Mathematicians by Anthony Sudbery. This is not a popularization book. It's for the mathematically-inclinded interested in reading Phys. Rev. B without upper undergraduate physics. It assumes first- or second-year math (you should be comfortable with PDEs), but nothing else.

It covers basic QM and the Standard Model, as of about 1985. Some things have changed considerably since then, frex, I don't think Sudbery mentions quantum gravity or string theory, but the book is a good, not-too-basic introduction to classical and special-relativity QM.
posted by bonehead at 6:47 AM on December 19, 2003

evinrude, this will probably be too basic and dated for you, but I loved it and so must mention it: Alice in Quantumland: An Allegory of Quantum Physics, by Robert Gilmore.
posted by clever sheep at 10:35 AM on December 19, 2003

Physics graduate student checking in. It sounds like you're looking more for books like In Search of Schrödinger's Cat and Schrödinger's Kittens than books like The Elegant Universe. The latter deals with one of the more interesting directions of modern research, but the former two books are the ones that really get into the "paradoxes" of quantum mechanics.

If you're willing to try something a little more advanced, you might check out Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics, a collection of essays by John Bell.

Footnote: Contrary to what Brian Greene would have you believe, not everyone in physics thinks string theory is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:17 AM on December 19, 2003

Wow! thanks, everyone. I suppose I will check out one of the Gribbin books (probably the more recent one) as well as The Elegant Universe. Excellent. Thanks so much.
posted by evinrude at 11:23 AM on December 19, 2003

It's a video or audio course rather than a book, but I highly recommend: Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos. It covers the standard model, the particle zoo, super symmetry and some string theory. It's not more than 2 or 3 years old.

Also recommended is Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition. It covers relativity and quantum mechanics and would be a good introduction before the Particle Physics course.
posted by turbodog at 11:54 AM on December 19, 2003

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