Archive for November 18th, 2010
What’s the point of making antimatter if you can’t use it to blow stuff up? The point is to understand the laws of physics better. If you can do spectroscopy of anti-atoms, it will tell us a lot about whether antimatter obeys the same laws as ordinary matter, which might provide a clue as to why everything we see seems to be made of ordinary matter. You could also use it to test how antimatter interacts with gravity, which is something we don’t currently have any way to test.
But if the history of chemistry lays only dubious claim to being the greatest adventure in all of history, it certainly is an adventure: quite different from the nerdy stereotype of the history of science, and much more like Captain Kirk than Science Officer Spock. Such is the lesson of Patrick Coffey’s lively survey, Cathedrals of Science. The men (mostly) and women (more every year) who make this history fight for jobs and recognition just like ballplayers, doctors, artists, actors, and accountants who strive to reach the top of their profession. Along the way, they prefer their friends, sabotage their enemies, and tilt playing fields the world assumes are level. Those of us who work in a place that bestows awards and collects oral histories know that every sort of personality can be a great scientist: the bold, the shy, the plodding, the brilliant, the generous, the spiteful, the humble, and those with more self-assurance than a shark in a minnow tank.
Oh, sure, they show all the scenes where he nails it. But how many skinned knuckles did he suffer through to get this good?