Where did the universe come from?
And other cosmic questions!
Where Did the Universe Come From? and Other Cosmic Questions is a book I wrote with my academic colleague and friend Geraint Lewis. Geraint is a gifted scientific communicator and, if you aren’t already from Wales, you’ll love his Welsh accent. Geraint is also an astrophysicist, whereas I am a quantum physicist. In the world of academic physics, we couldn’t be further apart. We teach separate subjects and work in different parts of the university using different terminology and mathematics. When we visit our experimental colleagues, Geraint goes to observatories while I visit the labs in the basement. So, why did we come together to write this book?
I refer to the book as my love letter to quantum physics, and here’s why. When you look for popularizations of science, you tend to find the same perspective no matter who is offering it — the “cosmic perspective.” You should have read that in the voice of Niel deGrasse Tyson. Tyson, and his scientific hero Carl Sagan before him, were indeed astronomers. That means they may have shared beautiful astrophotography photos that they themselves had taken. But a vast array of (very gifted) scientific communicators study things completely disconnected from astronomy. Yet, when they get up on stage, they show you photos of stars and galaxies and artistic representations of black holes and other planets.
This makes sense, of course — we love the stars. I mean, you didn’t even need me to tell you that. But here’s a dirty little secret — everything we understand about the cosmos beyond what we can see through a 19th-century telescope is a consequence of quantum physics. Quantum physics has its fingerprints on everything, but it has been done a great disservice, being labeled as too complicated to understand even for the likes of Einstein. And here’s my dirty little secret — this book was my way of sneaking quantum physics into the public sphere through the cosmic perspective.
This book is about cosmic questions and how our best answers to them are given by quantum physics. Geraint is the expert on the questions and the real scientific data that prompts them. For example, where did the universe come from? sounds like a pretty innocent question. But, in fact, where that question comes from is just as interesting. As we discuss in the book, the astronomical data shows that all galaxies are moving away from each other — the universe is expanding. That means that all the galaxies were closer together in the past. And if we turn the clock back far enough (about 14 billion years), all the matter in the galaxies should have been in a single place. The entire cosmos was wrapped up in the tiniest fraction of the size of an atom. If we are going to have any attempt at explaining what happened then, we need the principles of quantum physics. That’s where I come in. In this case, we need to understand quantum uncertainty if we are to answer where the universe came from.
The book is a series of big questions about life, the universe, and everything. (No, 42 is not the answer every time.) With each question, Geraint and I go back and forth to connect the concepts in quantum physics to questions at the cosmic scale. It was insanely fun to write this book, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did making it.
You can pick up a copy at your nearest local bookstore on 7 Sep 2021, or preorder online.