David Kaiser

David Kaiser is writing two books about gravity: a textbook on cosmology, and a history of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

The Austrian polymath Ernst Mach exhorted his fellow physicists in the early 1880s to recognise that all was not well with their discipline. Two hundred years earlier, Isaac Newton had bequeathed to them a remarkable system of laws which made it possible for them to describe – and predict – the motion of everything from an apple falling from a tree near Woolsthorpe to the orbit of...

Boiling Electrons

David Kaiser, 27 September 2012

A decade ago, digging through a physicist’s archive, I stumbled on a document that has haunted me ever since: a hand-typed table of integrals seemingly little different from the ones I’d kept by me as a student. The familiarity of the contents jarred with the table’s front page. Only 31 copies of the table had been printed, the recipients listed on the cover. The table,...

Short Cuts: The Higgs Boson

David Kaiser, 25 August 2011

Particle physics is at once the most elegant and brutish of sciences. Elegant because of its sweeping symmetries and exquisite mathematical structures. Brutish because the principal means of acquiring information about the subatomic realm is revving up tiny bits of matter to extraordinary energies and then smashing them together. Imagine trying to discern the hidden inner workings of a...

Going Supernova

David Kaiser, 17 February 2011

Twenty years ago, the science writer Dennis Overbye published a marvellous book, Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, in which he traced the development of cosmology – the scientific study of the universe as a whole – during the second half of the 20th century. The cosmologists in Overbye’s book were lonely for two reasons. They included the last remnants of a generation of...

Diary: Aliens

David Kaiser, 8 July 2010

My mother rarely calls to talk about my research. In April, however, she rang to ask: ‘Do you agree with Stephen Hawking?’ That’s usually an easy question to field. On topics ranging from the behaviour of black holes to the structure of the early universe, a safe answer is yes. But that wasn’t what my mother wanted to know. She wanted to know whether I agreed with the recently retired Lucasian Professor of Mathematics that trying to contact aliens was a bad idea. Any extraterrestrial civilisation that could receive our communiqués and act on them, Hawking warned, might show up on our doorstep, and wouldn’t necessarily be friendly. ‘Such advanced aliens,’ Hawking said, might be ‘looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.’ In no time at all, the word spread from Hawking’s voice synthesiser to the world’s blogosphere. Soon even my mother was calling.

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