Category Archives: Physics

George and the Unbreakable Code

This is the fourth instalment of the George children’s book series written by the Hawking father and daughter team. I don’t know about you, but occasionally I find that by the time you make it to book four of a series, the magic has dwindled, the characters have become boring and you can’t wait for someone to get to the point.

That didn’t happen here. In case you’re wondering, I managed to read this in an afternoon. Or rather, had to read it in one afternoon because I had a serious case of can’t-put-it-down.George and the Unbreakable Code - Book Cover

George and Annie are on half term break, and like we can all remember from when we were at school, it could get a bit dull. Until suddenly many things start to happen in quick succession. Money being shot out of cash machines, free airplane flights, no electricity and a whole lot more, all of which seems to be based on a worldwide computer system failure. Whilst Eric has been summoned to Downing Street to help find out what on earth is going, George and Annie must work on Annie’s half term project about the chemistry of life itself, with Cosmic (the super super-computer) to help them. But Cosmic seems to be acting up and causing trouble. Very quickly, they realise that figuring out what’s going on is down to them, and only them.

Just as thrilling a book as all the ones before it, ‘George and the Unbreakable Code’ also delves deeper and covers topics and ideas that the intended readers might not normally think about. Lucy and Stephen Hawking have introduced the idea of learning disabilities, destabilisation of social order and looting. But they also brought up the concepts of strong friendships, self-sustainability and trust. Bringing all of these together has added an extra layer to the book, hopefully passing on some wisdom to the reader without them noticing.

And as with the other books, the entire adventure is inundated with fact pages about everything from Enceladus to Carbon, from wartime computing to Boltzmann Brains (not to be confused with one of the characters, Boltzmann Brian who is absolutely wonderful!). There are also the usual mini-essays written by leading scientists and pages of pictures relevant to the story. There’s even a section on keeping safe on the internet, which is always good to drum home, even when you’re old and (meant to be) wise!

Overall, a brilliant book as always brought from the fabulous Hawking duo. May they keep educating us with these intelligently written characters.

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Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed

Quantum - A Guide for the Perplexed

The first thing about this book is that you need to be careful, because the cover could cause you to go cross-eyed. But apart from that, the book is a fantastic read both for those who know a little about the topic and those who have no idea and are scared by the word “quantum” (which, to be honest, they should be).

Jim Al-Khalili takes your hand and guides you through the weird and wonderful world of quantum physics, and does so with a similar approach to that which an undergraduate might meet when they first start.

He does everything simply, clearly and with added humour; carefully introducing more and more concepts that underpin the entire field.

Later, when the reader has gained more confidence, the book moves into much more complex regions of quantum physics, including things which physics students might not have covered in much detail, yet the author still does it in a very easy to follow manner.

The entire book also has little nuggets of fact-file style pages, some written by Al-Khalili, but many written by colleagues from different universities, expanding on what has been mentioned in the main text of the book. Additionally there are amusing analogies such as the quantum diamond thief, and entertaining notes explaining to American readers that Leeds United are the best football team in the UK; all these merely add icing on top of a wonderfully yummy cake.

If you want to have a better understanding of quantum physics, or you’re a student who needs a quick explanation of the Zeeman effect because your lecturer makes no sense, then Jim Al-Khalili’s book “Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed” is perfect. Just don’t confuse it with a zebra.

Interview with Lucy Hawking

Lucy Hawking It has taken a while – because there was some exciting book news which needed clearing –  but I have finally published my January interview with Lucy Hawking!! Lucy is the author of the popular children’s book series about George.

So if you want to know all about Lucy not remembering meeting President Obama, why there’s a pig on the first page of book one, or how to convince Stephen Hawking to do something, then roll up, roll up, and read all about it!

Interview with Professor Frank Close

Frank CloseHe’s written about antimatter, neutrinos, voids and cosmic onions. But most recently Professor Frank Close, Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Exeter College, has written a fascinating book, ‘The Infinity Puzzle’, on the people behind the Higgs Boson and the Large Hadron Collider in Europe.

Luckily I had the chance to catch up with him for half an hour to chat about everything from where Physics is going to his pet cat.

So if you want to hear more about ‘out of the box’ thinking students, physicists who might be spies or whether Frank has ever suffered from Nobelitis then just go through to the interview here or you can click on the ‘Interviews’ tab at the top of the page.

Fly Me to the Moon, Let Me Swing Among Those Stars

Neil Armstrong 1956 portrait

I simply can’t believe that the man who uttered those eternal words, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, as he stepped onto the Moon passed away today.

His family say that he died due to complications from heart surgery he had earlier this month. In a statement, the family described him as a “reluctant American hero” who “served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut”.

All I can say is that this incredibly modest, talented and much adored man will be sorely missed by people of all ages across the world.

“Tonight I feel like Armstrong and I’m doing what seems impossible
Tonight I’ll be the rocket man and make it look incredible
Just like 40 years ago
Still, it’s a thrill to walk in the unknown without fear
Tonight I’m being at the edge of, human frontier”

Human Frontier, NEO

Photograph © NASA