Thursday, April 08, 2010

Warped Passages: unraveling the mysteries of the Universe's hidden dimensions

by Lisa Randall

This book made my brain hurt, in a good way. Took a while to read it, because I found it tough to read for longer stretches, but I've always loved the crazy science of particle physics. As if strange and charmed quarks, antiparticles and virtual particles weren't enough, this book tries to explain the extra dimensions that are required for string theory — and it turns out the extra dimensions are handy solutions even if string theory turns out not to be correct.

All the real math is in the notes at the end, so don't fear. The author does a good job of using analogies and diagrams to guide you through the process of imagining extra dimensions, and it really does come down to a feat of imagination. Extra dimensions could be wrapped up so tinily that they're functionally undetectable, or it could be their infinitude that makes them un-observable. Either way, they aren't directions per se, like our usual three spatial dimensions, or even like the fourth dimension of time, but they should at some point have measurable effects on particle collider experiments.

I'm not going to try to summarize any of the stuff in the book, but if you like this kind of stuff, you'll totally dig this book. I geeked out so hard that I took notes and at one point fretted over whether I'd be able to e-mail the author and ask her questions. I can't claim complete understanding (I especially have trouble with quantum field theory and virtual particles), and I'll be damned if I can properly explain it to anyone else, but I really hope some cool shit happens when the Large Hadron Collider is at full power!

Just for yuks, here's a link to a website with a grid of spinning Calabi-Yau manifolds, which is one possible shape for extremely tiny rolled up dimensions.

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