I drove up to Dublin yesterday evening for a book launch at University College Dublin. Two of my former professors, Alex Montwill (who taught courses in formal quantum theory and particle physics) and Ann Breslin (special relativity and experimental high-energy physics) have just written a popular science book ‘Let there be light: The Story of Light from Atoms to Galaxies‘ published by Imperial College Press. Both were among the best teachers I ever had, as well as outstanding researchers in the field of particle physics. In fact, Alex was Ireland’s foremost experimental particle physicist for many years, but is probably best known for a series of lectures on modern physics on national radio.
I’ve never been to a physics book launch before, it was great fun. All the great and the good from the world of Irish physics were there, including just about everyone who taught me as an undergraduate! Talk about a trip down memory lane. One big difference – I couldn’t believe how beautiful Belfield campus is now with tons of landscape gardening and new buildings.
The book was launched with great aplomb by Dick Ahlstrom, science editor of The Irish Times. Dick has played a huge role in the communication of science to the public in Ireland, mainly through writing and editing a full page on science every week in The Irish Times (you can see an example here). As far as I know, there is a fairly unique example of a full page on science in a quality newspaper, and is now an integral part of that great paper.
I have yet to have a good read of the book but it looks superb, as you might expect of the culmination of a lifetime’s reflection on physics by two highly respected physicists and teachers. The book is pitched at a level slightly above most popular science books, somewhere between undergraduate and the layman, and is an introduction to pretty much all of modern physics from the perspective of the study of the nature of light – from optics to wave theory, from astronomy to quantum theory, from electromagnetism to special relativity. An unusual feature is the essay-like style of the presentation – you can start reading anywhere (though it’s hard to put down). Another unique feature are the illustrations; a huge number of really helpful small illustrations, from well-known images to sketches and cartoons. A lot of the concepts are illustrated via an owl character, which reminds me of the books of George Gamow, an old hero of mine.
If you want to know more, buy the book. I’m looking forward to reading it at the weekend
Update: You can get it at discount at the World Scientific site, and there is a very nice overview of the book there