Tag Archive: science

Take an idea like “nothing” and then invite a variety of scientists, mathematicians and other experts to write about it in their field.This is the premise behind a collection of essays called “Nothing” published by Profile Books and edited by Jeremy Webb.

Thus we have the history and science of the temperature 0K – absolute zero – and what happens to materials such as Helium when cooled to very close to zero degrees. You learn that there are different  kinds of vacuum and that Quantum Physics suggests that a vacuum might not be as ’empty’ as we imagine.

Then there is the history of ‘zero’ both as a number which does funny things (a bit like infinity) as well as being a place marker so that we do not mix up 11, 101, 110 and 1001 etc for instance. We also find out about placebos and their evil twins nocebos. Other topics include the noble gases which, at first glance, do nothing.

This is the sort of book you might dip into or have at your bedside. That is not to say that the reading is especially light but that the style is informal and you don’t have to understand any technical details.

I like this book enough to read it over my cereal but it is not particularly entertaining if you do not have at least some idea what they are talking about. Although I found it readable, I prefer the New Scientist books derived from their ‘Last Word’ feature in the magazine.

Overall three stars or 6 out of ten.


… it would be better if it were a communicating door.

Sir Patrick Moore 1923 – 2012

With Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan, Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore helped foster my interest and understanding of astronomy. I’m not an avid fan of “The Sky at Night” partly because it lives up to its title and is generally broadcast late at night. However, it is a notable achievement to present a TV program every month (bar one) for over 55 years. He wrote many books and it is some of those which have informed me over the years more than the TV series.

Having never met him I’ll leave it to others to describe his life in more detail: see The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the BBC websites for example. There is a brief autobiography on this BBC web page from 2008. He was an eccentric and an enthusiast. However, he was not just a respected amateur astronomer. He wrote books, included scientific ones as well as fiction, he composed and played music, appeared in comedy and children’s TV programmes and as a young man served in the RAF during World War II. It was then that he loved and lost his sweetheart during an air raid. Subsequently he never married.

Sir Patrick met many amateur astronomers, young and old, as well as famous scientists and pioneers including Orville Wright, Alert Einstein, Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong. His detailed maps of the moon were used by both Russia and America in their lunar missions of the 1960’s. They were also used by the Apollo missions.

Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore OBE FRS, born in Pinner, Middlesex, 4th March 1923, died in Selsey, Sussex, 9th December 2012

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