The Big Bang 3: Lemaître’s universe, Hubble’s law

Georges Lemaître was a devout priest and a brilliant physicist who found Hubble’s Law in theory two years before Hubble did in practice. He took Einstein’s equations of general relativity and showed that they had a solution in which the universe expands, with the speed of expansion increasing as […]

The Big Bang 2: A shift in the mist

The Latin word nebula means ‘mist’, and originally a nebula was any sort of misty patch in the sky. Today it is more precise, referring to an interstellar cloud of dust and gas; and we shall see in a moment why the name evolved.

An issue that came to the […]

The Big Bang 1: The first ideas

The story of the development of the idea of the Big Bang has two separate strands, and we have to switch back and fore between them.

The one strand is the observational work of astronomers, developing techniques to measure the distance of stars and galaxies – and also their relative […]

The physics of the Wood of Hallaig

‘Tha tìm, am fiadh, an coille Hallaig’
‘Time, the deer is in the Wood of Hallaig.’
Tha bùird is tàirnean air an uinneig
trom faca mi an Àird an Iar
’s tha mo ghaol aig Allt Hallaig
’na craoibh bheithe, ’s bha i riamh
The window is nailed and boarded
Through which I saw the […]

Processes and objects

There are two fundamentally different ways of picturing the world around us. One is as a collection of objects – and we learn from our earliest moments that we are surrounded by things that we pick up or bump into.

But an alternative approach is to see the world as […]

Eddington’s universe

Whenever the poet George Mackay Brown reorganised his library, getting rid of some of the overspill, some books from younger years would always remain.

There was the first Penguin book from 1935, a biography of Shelley by André Maurois; and Penguin number 3, Poet’s Pub by Eric Linklater. And there […]

Higgs 8: Physics is worth a mass

People remember 1967 for different reasons.

It was the year of the Six-Day War in the Middle East and the military coup in Greece. It was the year when North Sea gas came ashore in Britain, when the Beatles issued Sergeant Pepper, and when Celtic won the European Cup. Nicole […]

Higgs 7: Three roads converge

By 1964 the challenge was clear. The familiar phenomena of electricity and magnetism looked as if they could be part of something even bigger. This ‘something’ was the electroweak interaction, with the electromagnetic field one of its aspects and the weak interaction another.

The reasoning came from symmetry. Looked at […]

Higgs 6: Can the circle be unbroken?

In the 1960s the tide in physics flowed towards tackling the strong interactions, as those grappling with the weak interactions had come up against an apparently unshiftable block.

The technique that seemed to be the most powerful one was the use of symmetry, and the use of Lie groups enabled […]

By |July 12th, 2012|Quantum physics|Comments Off on Higgs 6: Can the circle be unbroken?

Higgs 5: The strong dominate the field

By the mid-1960s, the situation in particle physics was not good. Its aim had been to uncover the basic building blocks of matter, and for a time the end seemed in sight. In 1917 Ernest Rutherford had split the atom and showed it consisted of an electrically positive nucleus […]