T-1 and counting

Tomorrow is pub day, though some places have already jumped the gun!

Leading up to that, I have a bunch of exciting announcements:

  1. The advance reviews have been awesome! We’ve been selected as one of the “best of July” at Barnes and Noble, as well as well as a “Staff Favorite” at Powells. I’m too embarrassed to reproduce the B&N endorsement, but you can read it, along with a bunch of other reviews here.
  2. We got a great review from the “Lights in the Dark” blog: “…Even though the subject matter is undeniably complex and often abstract, Goldberg does a great job at describing it in ways that are not only easy to understand but also shamelessly entertaining…”
  3. July 10, 7:30pm (aka Tonight!) I’ll be giving a talk and signing and selling some books at Philadelphia NerdNite
  4. July 11, 7:00pm – I’ll be reading and signing books at the Rittenhouse Square Barnes and Noble
  5. I also just got word that the Philadelphia Inquirer wants to do an interview!

I hope to see you at one of my talks and events, and as always, please keep sending me your great questions.

Above all, I hope you enjoy the book!


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Nature Review

In case you missed it, Nature (subscription required) had this to say about The Universe in the Rearview Mirror:

Who knew symmetry could be so brilliantly entertaining? Physicist Dave Goldberg slings the reader straight in at the deep end of this big physics concept, but with enough masterly wit to keep you afloat. If you’ve ever longed to know the nitty-gritty on antimatter; puzzled over the exclusion principle; woken up in a cold sweat wondering why you are not a “sentient cloud of helium”; gritted your teeth over the cosmological principle; or been terrified by the beasts of the ‘particle zoo’, this is for you.

Pretty awesome, right? Lots of other reviews and advance buzz can be found here.

Did you forget that it’s coming out next Thursday, because I sure didn’t.


P.S. I also had an io9 yesterday, “Where does the standard model of physics come from?” It’s a bit on the long side (and fairly sophisticated), but you… you may enjoy it.

P.P.S. I’ll be doing a reddit “Ask me Anything” July 11 at 2pm EDT. Come on over, and ask me anything!

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Lensing Animations

I have an amazing undergraduate research student this summer, who I won’t name so as not to embarrass her. But I wanted to share an awesome gravitational lensing that she put together for me after only a couple of days of gearing up. Pretty cool, eh? The idea is that there is a point source in the center of the image and the top frame shows what a moving source would look like without lensing, and the bottom includes the lensing. Enjoy!


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Nature Review!

This one is too good not to post! The July 4 issue of Nature enthuses:

Who knew symmetry could be so brilliantly entertaining? Physicist Dave Goldberg slings the reader straight in at the deep end of this big physics concept, but with enough masterly wit to keep you afloat. If you’ve ever longed to know the nitty-gritty on antimatter; puzzled over the exclusion principle; woken up in a cold sweat wondering why you are not a “sentient cloud of helium”; gritted your teeth over the cosmological principle; or been terrified by the beasts of the ‘particle zoo’, this is for you.

Subscription required, so if you don’t have one, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

We’re at T-1 week, people! Oh, and also I have an interesting io9 “Ask a Physicist” column tomorrow on where, exactly, the Standard Model comes from.


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Ask a Physicist: How does Spacetime get Bent?

My latest column is up at io9: “How does Spacetime get Bent?” It’s an overview of how to think about curved spacetime, even if the universe “really” feels flat. Enjoy!


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Ask a Physicist: A Practical Guide to Intergalactic Travel

Good news everyone! I have a new column on io9: How to Make it to the Edge of the Observable Universe in a Few Decades. This is one of the most fun columns I’ve written in ages, so please do check it out.


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Travel to the end of the Universe

About a week ago, I had a contest on io9 calling for questions about the universe. I got one that seems, on first blush, to be kind of silly, but on further inspection is kind of awesome. Cameron asks:

What impact will the expanding universe have on humans exploring space?

Locally, not at all, but if you wanted to travel to other galaxies — especially the most distant galaxies — everything gets crazy.

I’m going to do my actual (non-technical) column on io9 answering this this Thursday, but I wanted to give a heads-up to the truly devoted. There are at least 4 issues:

  1. Time slows when you’re going fast.

    The issue is in how we might imagine traveling over interstellar distances. We’re human, which means that we need to slowly get up to speed, accelerating at a rate of 1g until we’re going close to the speed of light, and then decelerating at the tail end of the trip.

    Of course, if we’re going close to the speed of light, then Einstein tells us that time appears to slow. I already did a technical post on this, but only to the nearest stars.

    In other words, to travel 100 light-years, even though you’ll never hit the speed of light (let alone break it), according to your personal clock, much than 100 years will have elapsed.

  2. Distant galaxies are a moving target.

    Just because a galaxy is 5 billion light years away now doesn’t mean that it would take 5 billion years to get there, even at the speed of light. Every day these distant galaxies get further and further away.

  3. An expanding universe drags your ship.

    The expanding universe slows down your ship, just from the expansion of spacetime itself. It’s the same thing that causes light to get redder and redder (lower and lower energy) as time goes on. Just to keep at a constant speed, you need to keep your foot on the gas.

  4. In an accelerating universe, there’s an ultimate horizon.

    We live in a universe of dark energy, which means that the universe is accelerating, and there is a particle horizon beyond which can’t ever reach, no matter how quickly we travel.

This is to say nothing of other potential weird effects like the fact that you can’t be sure of what you’ll reach when you get to your destination (or even if the galaxy hasn’t already been destroyed in the collision), or that in a curved universe, you and a friend might head off in different directions and eventually meet.

This question got me so excited that I did the detailed calculation to figure it out. This goes well beyond what I’d normally post here, but if you’d like to have a look:

[Technical Calculations]

There are some awesome results, including:

  • You’d need a matter-antimatter drive the size of the moon to carry about 500kg of cargo to the edge of the universe
  • It would only take about 45 years (ship time) to reach the edge of the universe.

The detailed numerical calculations were done using a Python code, which I’m happy to share with you.

This code generated the figure up at the top which shows (for arbitrary distances), how long it takes to get there according to both the rocketship, and to the cosmos generally.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my nerdsplosion, and keep an eye out on Thursday of this week!

Update: 6/20 My greatly expanded version of this is up on io9!


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Ask a Physicist: Is the Earth Putting on Weight?

Last week, I put in a call for questions, and the opportunity to win a signed advanced copy of The Universe in the Rearview Mirror (and seriously, it’s never too early to pre-order). The first winning column is up: “Is the Earth Getting Heavier?” (Spoiler: No).

Take a look, and, even though you’re not going to win a free book, be sure to send me your questions about the universe.

Next week, I’ll be providing a practical guide for intergalactic travel in an expanding universe. If you have any thoughts, be sure to let me know via email or in the comments section.


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Book Giveaway! Also, reviews!

Greetings, true believers! If you haven’t done so already, head on over to io9 and submit a question. I’m running an “Ask a Physicist” context. For the next 4 weeks, I’ll be answering a question a week, as selected by my blue ribbon panel. If your question is selected, not only do you get your question answered and internet fame, but also, you get a free, signed book!

In other news, here’s what Discover Magazine has to say about my new book:

…Goldberg offers math-free guideposts along the way in this witty and accessible read. Tip: Don’t skip the copious footnotes, packed with geek humor.

It’s actually been a big day for reviews. Barnes and Noble also posted an editorial review that’s so good, I’m almost embarrassed to reproduce it. But I will:

Readers who fear that physics is an unapproachable subject have never met Dave Goldberg. The Physics department director at Drexel University and author (A User’s Guide to the Universe) has a knack for explaining cosmological matters without brandishing higher mathematics or demanding post-graduate acumen. His new book reveals, among other things, what is so super about supersymmetry and what’s the matter with antimatter. One of its most thrilling revelations, however, concerns a largely forgotten female physicist. German mathematician Emmy Noether (1882-1935) earned the plaudits of Einstein and others, but she seldom receives credit for her truly breakthrough theories about the connection between symmetry and conservation. A Carl Sagan for a new generation.

Just to be clear, they’re trying to sell books here. Even I think this is overinflated.


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Day of Dialog (and a lesson learned)

I had the great pleasure of serving on a panel at the 2013 Library Journal Day of Dialog yesterday. That’s me up there talking about “The Art of Science Book Writing” with Richard Dawkins and Simon Winchester. I realize that the pictures are a little blurry, so let’s make up for quality with quantity.

This is us with our moderator, Erin Shea.

It was a great panel, and there was a lot of really thought-provoking discussion of how we road-test our ideas, what the goal of popular science writing should be, and how the academy views this sort of work. More on one or more of these topics later. We also did book signings (my first for The Universe in the Rearview Mirror!). The librarians in the audience were great, and they had lots of interesting things to talk about afterwards. But there was one thing that got me down.

Most of the folks wanted me to make the book out to themselves, or just to sign my name. That was great. Others had a son or a husband that they wanted me to sign it for. Almost always a son or a husband. Only 1 daughter in the whole group (and I must have signed 60 or so books, with at least a dozen signed to someone else).

As you may know, I am the director of undergraduate studies in the physics department at Drexel, and I’ve been looking very closely at gender equity in the last couple of years. We have a great group of undergraduate and grad students who’ve formed a Women in Physics Society and together we’ve been working hard on undergraduate recruitment. I won’t throw a ton of statistics at you, but according to the American Physical Society, the fraction of Bachelors degrees in Physics awarded to women is 20%, and has been flat for more than 10 years, and Drexel is not ahead of this curve.

I’m trying to do my part, one kid at a time. Every night, my 3 1/2 year old daughter, Willa, and I have a “chat.” Almost always, she wants to talk about the planets, or animals, or math or the history of science. And I think this is pretty typical. But somewhere between 3 and 18, physics takes a hit. We seem to be losing a lot of potential scientists in the middle and high school years, and it’s not clear what to do about it.

I’m trying, in my own way, to bring greater attention to Emmy Noehter in my new book, but I don’t think that will be the tipping point we’re looking for. I don’t have a remedy, but even among an incredibly enlightened, science and knowledge-friendly audience, I was surprised to see this imbalance so starkly.


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