Two new exhibits about Albert Einstein on Google Cultural Institute

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Two new, expertly written and illustrated exhibits about Albert Einstein are now available for free on Google Cultural Institute. These archives feature information from the Einstein Papers Project and the Hebrew University archives.

Einstein’s Trip to the Far East and Palestine

In late 1922 and early 1923, Albert Einstein embarked on a five-and-a-half-month trip to the Far East, Palestine, and Spain. In September 1921, Einstein had been invited by the progressive Japanese journal Kaizo to embark on a lecture tour of Japan.   The tour would include a scientific lecture series to be delivered in Tokyo, and six popular lectures to be delivered in several other Japanese cities. An honorarium of 2,000 pounds sterling was offered and accepted.

Einstein’s motivation for accepting the invitation to Japan was threefold: to fulfil his long-term desire to visit the Far East, to enjoy two long sea voyages “far from the madding crowds” and to escape from Berlin for several months in the wake of the recent assassination of Germany’s Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau, who had belonged to Einstein’s circle of friends. Rathenau had been gunned down by anti-Semitic right-wing extremists in June 1922 and there was reason to believe that Einstein’s life was also at risk.

Credit: Einstein’s Trip to the Far East and Palestine

Albert Einstein German, Swiss and American?

In a letter to his superiors, the German ambassador, Constantin von Neurath, quotes from a Copenhagen newspaper: „Although a Swiss subject by birth and supposedly of Jewish origin, Einstein’s work is nevertheless an integral part of German research“.

Von Neurath uses this flawed statement with good reason: The  Swiss Jew whom he would rather disregard, unfortunately proves to be one of the few “Germans” welcome abroad.

On April 26, 1920, for example, Albert Einstein was nominated member of the  Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters.

The more appreciated Einstein becomes abroad, the greater Germany’s desire to claim him as one of their own.

Credit: Albert Einstein German, Swiss and American?

On the occasion of these exhibits, Diana K. Buchwald of the Einstein Papers Project at California Institute of Technology said, “The Einstein cultural exhibit gives us a splendid glimpse into rare documents and images that tell not only the story of Einstein’s extraordinary voyage to publicize relativity in Japan in 1922, and to lay the cornerstone of the Hebrew University in Palestine in 1923, but also the dramatic trajectory of his entire life, illustrated by his colorful passports that bear testimony to the vagaries of his personal life.”

Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund, Former President, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Chair of the Albert Einstein Archives echoed her Buchwald’s enthusiasm noting, “The cooperation between the Google Cultural Institute, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Einstein Papers Project in Caltech has produced two exhibitions exploring two specific topics on Einstein’s life and personality. Thus, Google has provided an arena, accessible to all mankind, which allows the Hebrew University to share with the general public the highlights of one of its most important cultural assets–the Albert Einstein Archives, which shed light on Einstein’s scientific work, public activities and personal life.

Learn more about Princeton University Press’s Einstein-related books, including the print editions of the Einstein Papers Project, here.

 

 

Princeton at Hay Festival


Hay on Monday evening
Blackburn at Hay
Simon Blackburn talks to Rosie Boycott
Mitton at Hay
Jacqueline Mitton broadens our knowledge of the solar system
Bethencourt at Hay
Francisco Bethencourt discusses “Racisms”

Last week was an important week in the British literary calendar–the week of Hay Festival! Set in beautiful Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh Borders, and running since 1988, the festival attracts thousands of book and culture enthusiasts from around the world every year. This year’s line-up was as strong as ever: with names such as Toni Morrison, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry, Mervin King, Jeremy Paxman, Simon Schama, Sebastian Faulks, William Dalrymple, Benedict Cumberbatch, Bear Grylls, Max Hastings, Rob Brydon, Bill Bailey and Dame Judi Dench (to name but a few to catch my eye in the jam-packed programme), 2014′s Festival could not fail to enthrall and delight anyone who walked its muddy paths.

And of course, Princeton University Press authors have been gracing the Hay stages this year, with a variety of wonderful events. From Diane Coyle, explaining GDP to us in plain English (and lo0king very stylish in her Hay wellies) to Michael Wood (translator of Dictionary of Untranslatables) discussing words that defy easy–or any–translation from one language and culture to another, to Ian Goldin’s talk about globalization and risk (The Butterfly Defect), last weekend got off to a great start.

Then, earlier in the week, Jacqueline Mitton (author of From Dust to Life) took a gripped audience on a journey through the history of our solar system in her “John Maddox Lecture”.  On Tuesday, Rosie Boycott spoke to Simon Blackburn about his book Mirror, Mirror–a fascinating conversation which covered everything from psychopathic tendencies displayed in senior management to whether Facebook is really that damaging to the young. Francisco Bethencourt, meanwhile, managed to squeeze a history of racisms into an hour and gave us lots to ponder.

If all this leaves you wishing you’d been there, there is still more to envy! Later in the week, Roger Scruton, Will Gompertz and others discussed the value of a Fine Art degree – does contemporary art celebrate concept without skill? On a parallel stage, renowned historian Averil Cameron (author of Byzantine Matters) convinced us that an understanding of the Byzantine era is just as important as studying, say, Rome or Greece. Finally, Michael Scott (author of Delphi), whom it is almost impossible to miss on the BBC these days, delivered a talk about Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World on Friday.

Whether you swoon for science are potty for poetry, whether you want to dance the night away in a frenzy of jazz or are hoping to meet your favourite on-screen star, Hay Festival offers something new and exciting every year.

Princeton authors speaking at Oxford Literary Festival 2014

We are delighted that the following Princeton authors will be speaking at the Oxford Literary Festival in Oxford, UK, in the last week of March. Details of all events can be found at the links below:images5L8V7T97

Jacqueline and Simon Mitton, husband and wife popular astronomy writers and authors of From Dust to Life: The Origin and Evolution of Our Solar System and Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe respectively, will be speaking  on Monday 24 March at 4:00pm  http://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-events/2014/Monday-24/in-search-of-our-cosmic-origins-from-the-big-bang-to-a-habitable-planet

David Edmonds, author of Would You Kill the Fat Man? The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us  about Right and Wrong will be speaking on Monday 24 March at 6:00pm http://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-events/2014/Monday-24/morality-puzzles-would-you-kill-the-fat-man

Robert Bartlett, author of Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation will be speaking on Tuesday 25 March at 2:00pm http://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-events/2014/Tuesday-25/why-can-the-dead-do-such-great-things

Michael Scott, author of Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World will be speaking on Wednesday 26 March at 10:00am http://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-events/2014/Wednesday-26/delphi-a-history-of-the-centre-of-the-ancient-world

Simon Blackburn, author of Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love will be speaking on Wednesday 26 March at 4:00pm http://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-events/2014/Wednesday-26/mirror-mirror-the-uses-and-abuses-of-self-love

Roger Scruton author of the forthcoming The Soul of the World will be speaking Thursday 27 March 12:00pm http://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-events/2014/Thursday-27/the-soul-of-the-world

Alexander McCall Smith, author of What W. H. Auden Can Do for You will be speaking about how this poet has enriched his life and can enrich yours too on Friday 28 March at 12:00pm http://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-events/2014/Friday-28/what-w-h-auden-can-do-for-youMcCallSmith_Auden

Averil Cameron, author of Byzantine Matters will be speaking on Friday 28 March at 2:00pm  http://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-events/2014/Friday-28/byzantine-matters

Edmund Fawcett, author of Liberalism: The Life of an Idea will be speaking on Saturday 29 March at 10:00am http://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-events/2014/Saturday-29/liberalism-the-life-of-an-idea

In addition, Ian Goldin will be giving the inaugural “Princeton Lecture” at The Oxford Literary Festival, on the themes within his forthcoming book, The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It on Thursday 27 March at 6:00pm  http://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-events/2014/Thursday-27/the-princeton-lecture-the-butterfly-defect-how-globalisation-creates-system

 

W. Patrick McCray Win the 2012 Eugene E. Emme Award

W. Patrick McCray - The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future
Winner of the 2012 Eugene E. Emme Award for Astronautical Literature, American Astronautical Society

The annual Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Awards, named for NASA’s first Historian, recognize outstanding books which advance public understanding of astronautics through originality, scholarship and readability. For more information about the AAS Emme Award, click here.

http://press.princeton.edu/images/k9822.gifIn 1969, Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill began looking outward to space colonies as the new frontier for humanity’s expansion. A decade later, Eric Drexler, an MIT-trained engineer, turned his attention to the molecular world as the place where society’s future needs could be met using self-replicating nanoscale machines. These modern utopians predicted that their technologies could transform society as humans mastered the ability to create new worlds, undertook atomic-scale engineering, and, if truly successful, overcame their own biological limits. The Visioneers tells the story of how these scientists and the communities they fostered imagined, designed, and popularized speculative technologies such as space colonies and nanotechnologies.

Patrick McCray traces how these visioneers blended countercultural ideals with hard science, entrepreneurship, libertarianism, and unbridled optimism about the future. He shows how they built networks that communicated their ideas to writers, politicians, and corporate leaders. But the visioneers were not immune to failure–or to the lures of profit, celebrity, and hype. O’Neill and Drexler faced difficulty funding their work and overcoming colleagues’ skepticism, and saw their ideas co-opted and transformed by Timothy Leary, the scriptwriters of Star Trek, and many others. Ultimately, both men struggled to overcome stigma and ostracism as they tried to unshackle their visioneering from pejorative labels like “fringe” and “pseudoscience.”

The Visioneers provides a balanced look at the successes and pitfalls they encountered. The book exposes the dangers of promotion–oversimplification, misuse, and misunderstanding–that can plague exploratory science. But above all, it highlights the importance of radical new ideas that inspire us to support cutting-edge research into tomorrow’s technologies.

W. Patrick McCray is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Keep Watching the Skies!: The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age (Princeton) and Giant Telescopes: Astronomical Ambition and the Promise of Technology.

Tune in to Science Friday today to hear A. Douglas Stone discuss Einstein and the Quantum

Stone_EinsteinQuantum_jktWe’re really excited to hear Doug Stone talk about Einstein’s surprising contributions to quantum theory on today’s Science Friday. If you listen live, he will be on in the 3:00 – 3:30 hour.

Science Friday has also helpfully posted an excerpt from Stone’s book Einstein and the Quantum for listeners.

Join MoMath in New York City on October 26 for a celebration of Martin Gardner

Undiluted Hocus PocusMartin Gardner, an acclaimed popular mathematics and science writer and author of Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, would have had his 99th birthday this month. In honor of this special occasion, the mathematical community is putting together a number of birthday celebrations.

MoMath joins the fun on October 26th from 10:00 – 5:00 with a Celebration of the Mind.

At this family-friendly event, math fans of all ages will enjoy some close-up magic tricks, explore favorite Gardner puzzles, and make their own hexaflexagon to take home (how many people can say they have their own hexaflexagon?!). As an added challenge, try to spot the two exhibits that Gardner asked Museum directors to include in MoMath.

Later that evening, MoMath will welcome Martin Gardner’s son James Gardner and a panel of experts for a discussion:

Event: Who is Martin Gardner? A Conversation with Friends, Colleagues, and Family
Date and Time: Saturday, October 26, 6:30 pm
What is it? A panel of people who knew Martin Gardner well will share their favorite stories about him and reveal just how important his contributions have been to mathematics and to math lovers around the world. Ask questions, talk with the presenters, and share your own memories and stories.
Who is participating? James Gardner (University of Oklahoma, Martin Gardner’s son)
John Conway (Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University)
Mark Setteducati (President, Gathering 4 Gardner)
Neil Sloane (The OEIS Foundation and Rutgers University)
Colm Mulcahy (Spelman College and Author of Mathematical Card Magic: Fifty-Two New Effects)
Location: National Museum of Mathematics
11 East 26th Street, New York, NY 10010
Contact: (212) 542-0566 | info@momath.org

Space will fill up for this event, so please pre-register here: http://momath.org/about/upcoming-events/)


There are many Celebration of Mind events taking place around the world. Check out the map (http://celebrationofmind.org/) to find events close to you.

Come and celebrate the joy of math!

Martin Gardner Celebration At Princeton

Martin GardnerMartin Gardner, an acclaimed popular mathematics and science writer and author of Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, would have had his 99th birthday this month. In honor of this special occasion, the mathematical community is putting together a number of events celebrating this Gardner.

At Princeton University on October 25th from 6:30 – 8:30 PM in the Friend Center, Room 101, there is a free public lecture by Tadashi Tokieda on toy Models. He will share with you some unique toys he has made and collected, and show you the mathematics and physics behind them. Following the lecture, a panel of people who knew Martin Gardner well will share their favorite stories about him. You will have time to ask questions and talk with the presenters and share your memories as well.

Mark Setteducati (President, Gathering 4 Gardner) Panel Moderator
James Gardner (University of Oklahoma, Martin Gardner’s son)
John Conway (Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University)
Colm Mulcahy (Spelman College and Author of Mathematical Card Magic: Fifty-Two New Effects)


There are many Celebration of Mind events taking place around the world. Check out the map (http://celebrationofmind.org/) and you can find event close to you.

Come and celebrate the joy of math!

Martin Gardner’s Birthday Bash Celebration

Undiluted Hocus PocusMartin Gardner, an acclaimed popular mathematics and science writer and author of Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, would have had his 99th birthday this month. In honor of this special occasion, the mathematical community is putting together a number of birthday celebrations.

MoMath joins the fun on October 26th from 10:00 – 5:00 with a Celebration of the Mind.

At this family-friendly event, math fans of all ages will enjoy some close-up magic tricks, explore favorite Gardner puzzles, and make their own hexaflexagon to take home (how many people can say they have their own hexaflexagon?!). As an added challenge, try to spot the two exhibits that Gardner asked Museum directors to include in MoMath.

Later that evening, MoMath will welcome Martin Gardner’s son James Gardner and a panel of experts for a discussion:

Event: Who is Martin Gardner? A Conversation with Friends, Colleagues, and Family
Date and Time: Saturday, October 26, 6:30 pm
What is it? A panel of people who knew Martin Gardner well will share their favorite stories about him and reveal just how important his contributions have been to mathematics and to math lovers around the world. Ask questions, talk with the presenters, and share your own memories and stories.
Who is participating? James Gardner (University of Oklahoma, Martin Gardner’s son)
John Conway (Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University)
Mark Setteducati (President, Gathering 4 Gardner)
Neil Sloane (The OEIS Foundation and Rutgers University)
Colm Mulcahy (Spelman College and Author of Mathematical Card Magic: Fifty-Two New Effects)
Location: National Museum of Mathematics
11 East 26th Street, New York, NY 10010
Contact: (212) 542-0566 | info@momath.org

Space will fill up for this event, so please pre-register here: http://momath.org/about/upcoming-events/)


There are many Celebration of Mind events taking place around the world. Check out the map (http://celebrationofmind.org/) to find events close to you.

Come and celebrate the joy of math!

The Alzheimer Enigma in an Ageing World

Margaret LockA lecture by Professor Margaret Lock , author of The Alzheimer Conundrum: Entanglements of Dementia and Aging and a Marjorie Bronfman Professor in Social Studies of Medicine, Emerita, Dept. of Social Studies of Medicine, McGill University, will be taking place on October 24th.

This lecture has been convened by Dr Sahra Gibbon to form part of UCL’s Festival of Ageing and is supported by UCL Science Medicine and Society Network and UCL Anthropology.

The event is free (you can register here) and will be taking place from 6:00-7:30 PM in Gordon Square, London. For more details about the event itself, click here or email human-wellbeing@ucl.ac.uk.

lock_alzheimer11111Alzheimer’s disease is increasingly described today as an epidemic, with estimates of 115 million cases worldwide by 2050. Less visible are the ongoing epistemological arguments in the medical world about the observed entanglements of AD type dementia with “normal” aging, and the repeated efforts to delineate what exactly constitutes this elusive yet devastating condition. In early 2011 official statements appeared in relevant medical journals about a so-called paradigm shift involving a move towards a preventative approach to AD in which the detection of biomarkers indicative of prodromal Alzheimer’s disease is central. In this talk I will discuss the significance of risk predictions associated with such biomarkers, and the irresolvable uncertainties such information raises for involved individuals and families.

 

Q&A with Douglas Stone, Author of “Einstein and the Quantum”

Einstein and the QuantumA. Douglas Stone is the Carl A. Morse Professor of Applied Physics and Physics at Yale University. His book, Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian, reveals for the first time the full significance of Albert Einstein’s contributions to quantum theory. Einstein famously rejected quantum mechanics, observing that God does not play dice. But, in fact, he thought more about the nature of atoms, molecules, and the emission and absorption of light–the core of what we now know as quantum theory–than he did about relativity.

In a recent interview, A. Douglas Stone talked about Einstein’s contributions to the scientific community, quantum theory, and his new book, Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian.



Why does quantum theory matter?
At the beginning of the 20th century science was facing a fundamental roadblock: scientists did not understand the laws governing the atoms and molecules of which all materials are made, but which are unobservable due to their size.

At that time there was a real question whether the human mind was capable of understanding this microscopic realm, outside of all our direct experience of the world.  The development and success of quantum theory was a turning point for modern civilization, enabling most of the scientific advances and revolutionary technologies of the century that followed.

What are some of the ways that quantum theory has changed our lives?
There is a common misconception that quantum mechanics is mainly about very weird phenomena, remote from everyday life, such as Schrodinger’s cat, exotic sub-atomic particles, black holes, or the Big Bang.  Actually it is a precise quantitative tool to understand the materials, chemical reactions and devices we employ in modern industries, such as semiconductors, solar cells, and lasers.  An early success of the quantum theory was to help predict how to extract ammonia from the air, which could then be used as fertilizer for the green revolution that revolutionized 20th century agriculture. And of course our ability to develop both nuclear weapons and nuclear power was completely dependent upon quantum theory.

Why is Einstein’s role in quantum theory important and interesting?
It is important because a careful examination of the historical record shows that Einstein was responsible for more of the fundamental new concepts of the theory than any other single scientist.  This is arguably his greatest scientific legacy, despite his fame for Relativity Theory.  He himself said, “I have thought a hundred times more about the quantum problems than I have about Relativity Theory”. It is interesting because he ultimately refused to accept quantum theory as the ultimate truth about Nature, because it violated his core philosophical principles.

So you are saying that Einstein is famous for the wrong theory?
In a certain sense, yes.  All physicists agree that the theory of relativity, particularly general relativity, is a work of staggering individual genius.  But in terms of impact on human society and history, quantum mechanics is simply much more important.  In fact, relativity theory is incorporated into important parts of modern quantum mechanics, but in many contexts it is irrelevant.

In what ways was Einstein central to the development of the theory?
I estimate that his contributions to quantum theory would have been worthy of four Nobel Prizes if different scientists had done them, compared to the one that he received. I go through each of these contributions in its historical and biographical context in the book.

Can you give a few examples?
Quantum theory gets its name because it says that certain physical quantities, including the energies of electrons bound to atomic nuclei are quantized, meaning that only certain energies are allowed, whereas in macroscopic physics energy is a continuously varying quantity.  Typically the German physicist, Max Planck, is credited with the insight that energy must be quantized at the molecular scale, but the detailed history shows Einstein role in this conceptual breakthrough was greater.
Another key thing in quantum theory is that fundamental particles, while they move in space, sometimes behave as if they were spread out, like a wave in water, but in other contexts they appear as particles, i.e. very localized point-like objects.  Einstein introduced this “wave-particle duality” first, in 1905 (his “miracle year”), when he proposed that light, long thought to be an electromagnetic wave, also could behave like a particle, now known as the photon.
Yet another, very unusual concept in quantum theory is that fundamental particles, such as photons, are “indistinguishable” in a technical sense.  When many photons are bunched together it makes no sense to ask which is which.  This changes their physical properties in a very important way, and this insight is often attributed to the Indian physicist, S. N. Bose (hence the term “boson”).  In my view Einstein played a larger role in this advance than did Bose, although he always very generously gave Bose a great deal of credit.
The stories of these and other findings are fully told in the book and they illustrate new aspects of Einstein’s genius, unknown to the public and even to many working scientists.

What did Einstein object to about quantum theory?
Initially he reacted strongly against the intrinsic randomness and uncertainty of quantum mechanics, saying “God does not play dice”.  But after that his main objection was that quantum theory seems to break down the distinction between the subjective world of human experience and the objective description of physical reality that he considered the goal of physics, and his central mission in life. Many physicists struggle with this issue even today.

Why is Einstein’s role in quantum theory underappreciated?
Einstein ultimately rejected the theory and moved on to other areas of research, so he never emphasized the extent of his contributions.  His own autobiographical notes, written in his seventies, understate his role to an almost laughable degree. Second, Einstein’s version of quantum theory, wave mechanics, did not create a school of followers, whereas Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and others reached the same point be a different route. Their school fostered the primary research thrust in atomic and nuclear physics, gradually causing the memory of Einstein’s role to fade.  Finally, the history of Einstein’s involvement with quantum theory was long (1905-1925) and complex, and few people really understand it all; I try to remedy that in this book.

Did Einstein do anything important in quantum physics after the basic theory was known?
No and yes.  He did not work in the main stream of elementary particle physics which developed shortly after the basic theory was discovered in the late nineteen twenties, since he refused to employ the standard mathematical machinery of quantum theory which everyone else used.  However, in the early 1930’s he identified a conceptual feature of quantum theory missed by all the other pioneers, which became known by the term “entanglement”. This concept, ironically, is critical to the most revolutionary area of modern quantum physics, quantum information theory and quantum computing.

What does the subtitle of the book refer to? Who is the “Valiant Swabian”?
The Valiant Swabian was a fictional crusader knight, the hero of a poem by Ludwig Uhland, a poet from Swabia where Einstein was born. In his twenties, Einstein used to refer to himself jokingly by this name, particularly with his first wife, Mileva Maric.  It was a similar to someone today calling himself “Indiana Jones” for fun.  The young Einstein was a charismatic and memorable personality, with great joie de vivre, as this nickname indicates.  He was known for his sense of humor, his rebelliousness, and for his attractiveness to women, in contrast to the benevolent, grandfatherly, star-gazer we associate with iconic pictures of the white-maned sage of later years.

How did you research this book? What materials did you have access to?
There is a very extensive trove of letters and private papers that survive in Einstein’s estate, all of which have been translated and published for the period 1886 to 1922.  From reading all of these I got a good sense of his personality.  And all of his important scientific papers in the relevant time period are available in English now, so I was able to go back and see exactly how he arrived at his revolutionary ideas about quantum theory, which I then did my best to interpret in layman’s terms. In addition I relied on several excellent biographies by Folsing, Isaacson and Pais, and historical articles by many leading historians of science, such as T.S. Kuhn and Martin Klein.

What do you hope readers take away from reading Einstein and the Quantum?
First, new insight into Einstein’s genius, and a sense of the personality of the young Einstein, before his fame. Second, appreciation of the historic significance of the successful attempt to understand the atom through quantum theory, a turning point in human civilization. Third, an understanding of how science advances as a creative, human process, with both brilliant insights and embarrassing blunders, affected by psychological and philosophical influences.

BOOK FACT FRIDAY – Trigonometric Delights

BOOK FACT excerpted from Trigonometric Delights by Eli Maor:

It is no coincidence that trigonometry up until the sixteenth century was developed mainly by astronomers. Aristarchus and Hipparchus, who founded trigonometry as a distinct branch of mathematics, were astronomers, as was Ptolemy, the author of the Almagest. During the Middle Ages, Arab and Hindu astronomers, notably Abul-Wefa, al-Battani, Aryabhata, and Ulugh Beg of Samarkand (1393-1449), absorbed the Greek mathematical heritage and greatly expanded it, especially in spherical trigonometry. And when this combined heritage was passed on to Europe, it was again an astronomer who was at the forefront: Johann Muller, known as Regiomontanus.

Regiomontanus was the first publisher of mathematical and astronomical books for commercial use. In 1474 he printed his Ephemerides, tables listing the position of the sun, moon, and planets for each day from 1475 to 1506. This work brought him great acclaim; Christopher Columbus had a copy of it on his fourth voyage to the New World and used it to predict the famous lunar eclipse of February 29, 1504. Regiomontanus’s most influential work was his De triangulis omnimodis (On triangles of every kind), a work in five parts (“books”) modeled after Euclid’s Elements. As he states in his introduction, Regiomontanus’s main goal in On Triangles was to provide a mathematical introduction to astronomy. Regiomontanus completed writing On Triangles in 1464, but it was not published until 1533, more than half a century after his death.

We are pleased to announce a new paperback edition is now available:
Trigonometric Delights
by Eli Maor

Trigonometry has always been an underappreciated branch of mathematics. It has a reputation as a dry and difficult subject, a glorified form of geometry complicated by tedious computation. In this book, Eli Maor draws on his remarkable talents as a guide to the world of numbers to dispel that view. Rejecting the usual arid descriptions of sine, cosine, and their trigonometric relatives, he brings the subject to life in a compelling blend of history, biography, and mathematics. He presents both a survey of the main elements of trigonometry and a unique account of its vital contribution to science and social development. Woven together in a tapestry of entertaining stories, scientific curiosities, and educational insights, the book more than lives up to the title Trigonometric Delights.

Maor also sketches the lives of some of the intriguing figures who have shaped four thousand years of trigonometric history. We meet, for instance, the Renaissance scholar Regiomontanus, who is rumored to have been poisoned for insulting a colleague, and Maria Agnesi, an eighteenth-century Italian genius who gave up mathematics to work with the poor–but not before she investigated a special curve that, due to mistranslation, bears the unfortunate name “the witch of Agnesi.” The book is richly illustrated, including rare prints from the author’s own collection. Trigonometric Delights will change forever our view of a once dreaded subject.

Eli Maor teaches the history of mathematics at Loyola University in Chicago. He is the author of To Infinity and Beyond, e: The Story of a Number, Venus in Transit, and The Pythagorean Theorem: A 4,000-Year History.

Interview: How to Build a Habitable Planet author Charles H. Langmuir explains How to Build a Comprehensible Publication

1) The original edition of “How to Build a Habitable Planet,” written and published by Wally Broecker in 1985, is a legend within the university community for both its unusual breadth and clarity.  One of the first books on the Earth system, it did something very new by weaving together many fields that were traditionally kept separate — physics, chemistry, astronomy, all the Earth sciences, and biology — into one, jargon-free narrative.  What was the original inspiration behind the writing of this unusual book?

 

The growing interest in what NASA referred to as habitability.

2)  Since publication, this book been used more and more widely within introductory Geology and Earth Science courses, even inspiring courses built around the structure and contents of the book, entitled “How to Build a Habitable Planet.”  Did Broecker originally intend for the book to be used within courses?  What about this book makes it so ideal for course use?

 

The book breaks with the tradition of teaching Earth science as a collection of sub-disciplines—minerals, rocks, volcanoes, glaciers, plate tectonics, etc.  Instead, we try to have the reader learn where he or she comes from and how human beings are a consequence of an entire history beginning with the Big Bang.  So, the book combines the traditional “physical geology” and “historical geology” approaches and includes material from both of them in the context of the overall story of Earth’s evolution, its connection to the rise of Homo sapiens, and our influence and potential role on the planet.  Another aspect is the central role that biology plays in Earth’s evolution, and the importance of the interactions between all aspects of Earth, its interior, exterior, life and the cosmos.

 

3)  Charles Langmuir: You teach a course at Harvard – called, “How to Build a Habitable Planet.”  How did you originally start using the book in your course?  What is the background of the students in your course, and how many students does your course typically attract each year?  What do you hope your students will take away from taking your course and reading this book?

 

I started teaching the course, because I was working on the new version of the book.  I used draft chapters in the course and, through teaching it each year, the subject stayed alive.  I also saw what material engaged the students, and what material seemed tedious to them.  The Harvard course is a general education course — one that is designed for the non-science major.  Science majors find the course easy.  People who have not taken any science course for years can find it challenging. In my view every college student – actually, every educated human being – should know the essential elements of the story of the Earth and where we come from.  How can we engage effectively as modern citizens without such knowledge?  We do not necessarily need to know that glaciers make u-shaped valleys and rivers make v-shaped valleys, cool as that is; but, we do need to know where we come from and how we got here, and the implications that has for our planet. I hope that the students will be able to explain to their friends and family how we know the Big Bang is true, why plate tectonics and evolution are facts as well as theory, and the unique place that human beings occupy in human history – possibly marking the beginning of a new eon of geological time, should we survive that long.

 

The course at Harvard has 60 students in it this year. That, to me, is an ideal size, as it is possible to interact with the students on a personal basis and, at the same time, reach a group of significant size.

 

4)  A few years ago, you (Charles Langmuir and Wally Broecker) began collaborating on a newly revised and expanded edition of “How to Build a Habitable Planet.”  How did the idea for this collaboration and revision come about?

 

Wally pointed out that despite the book’s title, the book had no biology in it, and was weak in terms of its treatment of the solid earth.  I had been teaching half of a one semester course in introductory geology at Columbia using parts of the original book, so Wally asked me if I would like to add a couple of chapters to the original book, on plate tectonics and the origin of life.  I knew nothing about the origin of life, but loved the original edition and decided to take it on.   I then started to learn much more about many aspects of earth evolution, and the book gradually grew to its current size, as I realized that evolution, the rise of oxygen, and the recent work on the discovery of extra-solar planets all needed to be included, as well as the origin of life and more on Earth’s interior.

 

5) Why did you feel that a new edition was needed?  How is the new edition different from the original edition?

 

The new edition is far more comprehensive, with more than twice the number of chapters of the original edition.  Life is now central to the book, and the origin of life, evolution, the transformation of Earth’s exterior by life, and the connections among life, the solid Earth, atmosphere, ocean and cosmos are now a pervasive theme throughout the book.   Ocean ridges, convergent margins, mantle convection and the plate tectonic geochemical cycle are also major new additions.  All of the chapters, of course, are almost entirely rewritten to reflect the astounding growth in knowledge and understanding that has occurred over the last twenty-five years.

 

6) One of the later chapters of the book is called “Mankind at the Helm.”  How do you feel that the book informs new readers about the state of the art of climate science, and what the fate and role of our species is on our habitable planet, Earth?

 

We attempt to pose this problem in the context of our overall understanding of our planet. As a species, we are transforming the planet at a rate as fast or faster than many of the great era and eon boundaries of the past, and this is happening within our lifetimes.  It is astounding.  It is all made possible by our access to “Earth’s treasure chest,” which was gradually built up over billions of years of planetary history.  At the same time, a planet with intelligent life and civilization on it is a very different “being” than a planet without such capability.  For the first time there is the possibility of monitoring and understanding planetary systems, communicating with other intelligent life, should it exist, and transforming many planetary processes, including evolution and climate.

 

For climate science, we try to put the current situation in a larger context. It is not just that CO2 is rising, but that the rate of change is far faster then glacial to interglacial transitions, and that human emissions are several hundred times the emissions of volcanoes, which have been a major control on climate modulation over Earth history.  And Earth makes new oil at the rate that one gas station pumps gas.  We are using up hundreds of millions of years of Earth’s fossil fuel production in a few centuries.   These kinds of simple facts put the enormity of human actions in a different context than saying that CO2 is going up in the atmosphere by a few ppm per year and what the consequences are of that.

 

7)  You also write about planetary evolution and the role of extinctions and catastrophes in the history of a planet.  What are some of the ways in which catastrophes have affected our planet’s evolution in its history?

 

Catastrophes driving from Earth’s interior, the cosmos, and possibly life and climate have been a central aspect of Earth’s evolution.  Catastrophes interact with evolution in important ways, clearing out the ecospace so that new evolutionary innovations can flourish. Snowball Earth episodes may be related to the rise of oxygen.  Most mass extinctions seem to be associated with massive volcanism stemming from the core mantle boundary, and some associated with meteorite impacts.  Catastrophes are often at the same time disasters and opportunities.  The rise of oxygen can be viewed in the same way.  It was a toxic pollutant for anaerobic organisms, and is intrinsically harmful to organic matter, which breaks down in the presence of oxygen.  But, it also held the potential for an energy revolution in metabolism that permitted aerobic organisms and ultimately the rise of multi-cellular life.  It is important not to be naïve about change.  Change is inevitable.  It can be both crisis and opportunity.

 

8)  Some say that we are in the midst of a “6th extinction” event, largely caused by humans.  Do you think that there is evidence for this view?

 

Yes.  In the book we look at extinctions in terms of the “half-life” of organisms.  Looked at in that way, there is an objective assessment of whether the current extinction rate is unusual or not in a planetary context.  Life changes rapidly—there is almost complete species turnover in about 43 million years, based on the geological record. Human beings have accelerated extinction rates by ten thousand times relative to the background level that can be quantified for the Phanerozoic. If emergence of new species had been similarly accelerated, some 20% of Earth species would be new in the past two centuries.  This shows the magnitude of the human influence.  Mass extinctions of the past cannot be constrained to less than a few hundred thousand years.  We may be in the midst of one of the most rapid mass extinctions in planetary history; but, of course, it is not yet complete.  There is the possibility for us to preserve much of the biodiversity of the planet, but that seems unlikely without a major change in human behavior.

 

9)  Another of your chapters, entitled “Are We Alone?,” speaks to the fact that ~ 700 extrasolar planets have been discovered since the original edition was published.  What are some of the ways in which studying other planets and seeking other habitable worlds informs our understanding of our own planet’s climate and evolution?

 

Of course, this is one of the most exciting developments of modern science.  The discoveries to date have been constrained by the methods to exclude truly Earth-like planets (not only in terms of size, but also distance from their star), but that will change in coming years.  Perhaps the most exciting development will be if evidence is found for life anywhere else.  If it is, then life is pervasive throughout the universe.  It is very hard to know whether life is a natural, pervasive planetary process, or whether unique aspects of Earth’s history permitted it—right habitable zone in the galaxy, right habitable zone around a star, just the right volatile budget, a large moon, and so on.  But, if we find life any one other place, and we can only look at less than one in a billion places, then life is essentially everywhere.

 

The other important aspect is all the strange solar systems being discovered, so different from our own, greatly expand our understanding and imagination concerning life elsewhere.

 

10)  Since the original edition was so widely read, you must have heard stories from readers, about the effect that the book had on them.  Could you share one such story?  What effect do you hope this new edition of this classic book will have on its readers?

The most heartening comments are ones I commonly hear at the end of the course or in the evaluations, such as “I never knew science could be so interesting” or “Everyone should know this stuff!”  Just yesterday in office hours, one student said to me that she had been tutoring elementary school children, and they asked where the moon came from.  She told them about the giant impact theory, and she said the children’s eyes opened wide, and they became animated, asking all kinds of questions. One of them said, “Oh dear, what happened to all the people?”  To me, this reflected our natural human interest in our planet and where we come from, and the innate concern that is there within us, often submerged, for our fellow human beings.  In those two aspects of our nature, present in children, latent in all of us, may be a hope for the future.

 

 

bookjacket   How to Build a Habitable Planet:
The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind (Revised and Expanded Edition)

Charles H. Langmuir & Wally Broecker

Since its first publication more than twenty-five years ago, How to Build a Habitable Planet has established a legendary reputation as an accessible yet scientifically impeccable introduction to the origin and evolution of Earth, from the Big Bang through the rise of human civilization. This classic account of how our habitable planet was assembled from the stuff of stars introduced readers to planetary, Earth, and climate science by way of a fascinating narrative. Now this great book has been made even better. Harvard geochemist Charles Langmuir has worked closely with the original author, Wally Broecker, one of the world’s leading Earth scientists, to revise and expand the book for a new generation of readers for whom active planetary stewardship is becoming imperative.

“To be worth being this unwieldy, a book ought to do something pretty remarkable. And that’s just what How to Build . . . does, as you can tell from its subtitle, The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind. Now that’s what you call a large canvas.”–Brian Clegg, Popular Science