Some are well-known; others are surprising
How The Dead of Night Helped Inspire Three Astrophysicists to Rethink Reality
In 1946 three friends walked into a Cambridge cinema, looking for a solid distraction from the rigors of postwar Britain. They weren’t just an ordinary bunch of mates — the three were trained in astrophysics, possessed exceptional imaginations, worked closely together during wartime on important military projects, and were open to novel ideas in science. Today we remember Hermann Bondi, Thomas “Tommy” Gold, and Fred Hoyle as co-proposers of the steady-state theory of the universe. What happened in that cinema led directly to that bold proposal.
From Steady-State Devotee to Leading Advocate for the Big Bang
A Brief Dialogue with 2020 Physics Nobel Laureate Sir Roger Penrose
In the 1950s and early 1950s, Cambridge physicist Dennis Sciama was one of the world’s leading advocates for the steady-state model of cosmology: the idea that the universe, while expanding, continuously fills in the gaps with newly created matter. Then. in 1965, after Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson’s unexpected discovery of the relic microwave background radiation leftover from the hot early universe, Sciama made an astonishing turnabout and fully embraced the Big Bang. He encouraged his own student Stephen…
Renowned physicist Freeman Dyson’s wholly unwarranted fear of being boring
Physicist Freeman Dyson, though he never received an official PhD — a fact he was eminently proud of — was the happy recipient of numerous honorary degrees. From my observations during such a commencement ceremony at my own university, where he was awarded an honorary degree in 2011, one of his great joys at such events was captivating young minds with visions of the future. Despite the sizzling hot weather, unusual for May, his speech was outstanding. He spoke enthusiastically of four impending revolutions: space, nuclear energy, the genome, and…
On the Trail of Astrophysicist and Writer Fred Hoyle
In September 2019, my sabbatical research on the life and work of noted scientist and writer Sir Fred Hoyle brought me to England, and to the region of Bingley (including Gilstead and Eldwick) in the traditional and beautiful West Riding of Yorkshire. I had the chance to see the house where Hoyle grew up, the pub established by his great-grandfather, poet Ben Preston, the former Eldwick School that he attended, and many of the lanes and paths on which he walked. It was a truly lovely and enlightening visit. …
Exclusive interview with Italian nuclear physicist Viviana Mossa about her team’s astonishing new deuterium-burning results
In 1948, George Gamow and Ralph Alpher predicted that the bulk of the helium in the universe was created during the hot Big Bang by means of a multi-stage process, involving, as one of the steps, elemental hydrogen (a single proton) and its isotope deuterium (a proton plus a neutron). Big Bang nucleosynthesis (BBN) was an astonishing prediction, that turned out to be right on the mark.
From eerie encounters with purported psychics to “spooky action at a distance.”
Of all the writings by Albert Einstein, one of the most surprising of his contributions was his preface to Upton Sinclair’s 1930 book on telepathy, Mental Radio. Sinclair, a well-known writer (The Jungle) and social activist, wrote that book in reaction to his feeling that his wife had uncanny powers, such as the ability to read his mind. If he lost his keys, she knew exactly where to find them. Some might argue that such “mind-reading” happens regularly for couples, who start to get to know each others’…
Nobel laureate physicist Wolfgang Pauli had a penchant for hurling evil zingers at other scientists
By the age of 20, Viennese physicist Wolfgang Pauli had acquired the reputation of being a wunderkind, a child genius. His PhD supervisor Arnold Sommerfeld had recruited him to write an article about Einsteinian relativity for a scientific encyclopedia. The opportunity gave Pauli the chance to shine. Fellow physicists applauded its systematic overview of the subject.
Serendipitous discussions in a coffee shop with Jungian scholar Kathleen Damiani about Neoplatonism, David Bohm, and other topics
When Carl G. Jung coined the term synchronicity to denote meaningful acausal connections, he looked for examples in his life and in the lives of his patients. Cases in which a certain object or image manifested itself in various forms within a short period of time resonated with him.