Knocking on Heaven's Door
by Lisa Randall
(Harper Collins, $29.99) ISBN 978-0-06-172372-8
*****
Strictly speaking there may be no greater mysteries found than in the structure of the nucleus of an atom or the structure of our universe or perhaps of all the universes.

Guided by a scientific genius with an incredible comprehension of her topics and the gift of communication,  Lisa Randall is able to bring to the nonscientific reader a greater understanding of quantum mechanics – dealing with the smallest object we know,  and of cosmology,  the workings of the universe — the largest object we know.  A daunting task, but while making the complex less complex or almost simple to some, she accomplishes it with wit and insight on many levels.

Written in discernible parts, the first highlights the matter of scale as to reality and as to matter. Scientists have explored distances from the weak scale of 10 to the (-17th) centimeter to the size of the known universe at 10 to the (plus30th) centimeter. The importance of this cannot be overstated, as is best illustrated when the reader learns that the laws of Newtonian physics change at different scale levels.

Her second part addresses quantum mechanics, and the formation of the Standard Model which explains quantum mechanics. It is presently incomplete and physicists for the most part have come to believe that the missing part is a Higgs Boson or a Higgs field. This may be resolved in the foreseeable future by the testing done in Switzerland at the Large Hadron Collider. (LHC)

This moves to the section devoted to the LHC and the many problems associated therewith. Constructed in Switzerland and crossing to border into France the underground giant collider met obstacles before and during construction. A lawsuit was filed trying to stop the construction based in part on the belief that it would create a black hole, which would grow to a size sufficient to engulf the earth. Finally the way was cleared and construction began, to be met with one type of problem after another chronicled by Randall.  It is now in operation and the reader will leave this book with a greater understanding of how it works, and some of the potential knowledge that might be gleaned from current experiments.

A part of the book is devoted to cosmology or the study of the universe, addressing what is presently unknown. There is plenty to be discovered, but the focus here is on the invisible dark matter and dark energy, and the second before the initial Big-Bang.

And finally a memorable section addresses the conflict between science and religion as well as the connections among beauty, creativity and science. There has been criticism leveled that there is little in the book that is new to scientists, but there is much in this book new to a nonscientist. A sincere thank you is owed to the author from this reviewer for the enlightenment of the extraordinary in clear understandable terms.

--Thea Davis


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