June 16, 2010
Our intuition about how things should behave is usually right in the everyday world. We see the baseball soar in the air, arc, drop, and lie stationary on the ground. Through data gathered by our senses and basic knowledge of the laws of classical mechanics, the motion of the ball makes perfect sense.
But enter the world of the tiniest particles on earth – the motion of electrons, the shapes of molecules – and everything we think we know about the world radically changes. To understand what’s really happening in the world around us, to comprehend the mysterious, counterintuitive science of the small, we must take a quantum theory view of nature.
Like no other book before it, Absolutely Small makes the inherently challenging field of quantum theory understandable to nonscientists, without oversimplifying and without bogging down in complicated math. Written by an award-winning professor at Stanford University, the book uses clear explanations, real-world examples, and diagrams instead of dense equations to help you understand:
- Why strawberries are red and blueberries are blue
- How particles can change from “mixed states” to “pure states” based solely on observation
- How a single photon can be in two places at the same time
- Why quantum matter sometimes act like particles, and other times like waves
- Why a piece of metal will glow red when it is hot, and turn blue when it’s even hotter
- What makes salt dissolve in water, while oil does not, and much more
In the tradition of Steven Hawking and Lewis Thomas, but without the rigorous mathematical requirements, Absolutely Small demystifies the fascinating realm of quantum physics and chemistry, complete with compelling accounts of the scientists and experiments that helped form our current understanding of quantum matter.
Challenging without being intimidating, accessible but not condescending, Absolutely Small develops your intuition for the nature of things at their smallest and most intriguing level.
Michael D. Fayer, Ph.D., is the David Mulvane Ehrsam and Edward Curtis Franklin Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He has won major prizes and honors in the fields of physics, chemistry, and molecular spectroscopy, and is the author of Elements of Quantum Mechanics. He lives in Stanford, California.