APS News

Pay Attention or I’ll Collapse Your Wavefunction

Jennifer Ouellette

Photo credit: Ernie Tretkoff
Jennifer Ouellette reads to a stuffed quantum cat.

A new book by APS News Associate Editor Jennifer Ouellette has turned the “This Month in Physics History” column into a fun and accessible collection of essays for a general audience. Ouellette’s book, Black Bodies and Quantum Cats, was released on December 27, published by Penguin Books.

The book began from the history columns written by Ouellette for APS News, but the essays in the book have been significantly expanded and written to appeal to a wider readership. Each chapter in Black Bodies and Quantum Cats deals with a single theme in science history, from Leonardo da Vinci to string theory. Among the supporting cast of scientifically interesting objects are roller coasters, IBM’s chess playing computer, Reddi-whip and Velcro.

The short, self-contained essays explain physics through references to movies, television, literature, and art. Each chapter shows the quirky personalities and amusing stories behind the science. For instance, Eilmer of Malmesbury, a medieval monk who jumped off a roof with a crude pair of wings in 1010, appears in the chapter on flight. A building in Zimbabwe designed to mimic the temperature regulation found in termite mounds illustrates the principle of biomimicry. A chapter on the discovery of the top quark compares the subatomic zoo to the huge and eccentric Greek family in the hit movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Black Bodies and Quantum Cats will appeal to anyone who wants to learn more about how some of the most amazing discoveries in science came about. Even physicists should enjoy it.

Ouellette, a big fan of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has also just completed a book on the Physics of the Buffyverse, which will be published in
January 2007.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff