The Prism and the Pendulum: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments in Science

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Random House Publishing Group, Dec 18, 2007 - Science - 272 pages
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Is science beautiful? Yes, argues acclaimed philosopher and historian of science Robert P. Crease in this engaging exploration of history’s most beautiful experiments. The result is an engrossing journey through nearly 2,500 years of scientific innovation. Along the way, we encounter glimpses into the personalities and creative thinking of some of the field’s most interesting figures.

We see the first measurement of the earth’s circumference, accomplished in the third century B.C. by Eratosthenes using sticks, shadows, and simple geometry. We visit Foucault’s mesmerizing pendulum, a cannonball suspended from the dome of the Panthéon in Paris that allows us to see the rotation of the earth on its axis. We meet Galileo—the only scientist with two experiments in the top ten—brilliantly drawing on his musical training to measure the speed of falling bodies. And we travel to the quantum world, in the most beautiful experiment of all.

We also learn why these ten experiments exert such a powerful hold on our imaginations. From the ancient world to cutting-edge physics, these ten exhilarating moments reveal something fundamental about the world, pulling us out of confusion and revealing nature’s elegance. The Prism and the Pendulum brings us face-to-face with the wonder of science.


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Contents

The Belled Plane Copyright Istituto e Museo di Storia
42
American Association for the Advancement of Science
51
A PERI MEN Il ºf CRU
59
Cavendishs beam and balls
95
Ff
100
y m
118
SEE IN T H E EARTH ROTATE
140
N in
145
Co nº ſus
211
ſ w ſº ſq m a ts 2
221
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About the author (2007)

Robert P. Crease is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Stony Brook University in New York, and historian at Brookhaven National Laboratory. He writes a monthly column, “Critical Point,” for Physics World magazine. His books include Making Physics: A Biography of Brookhaven National Laboratory; The Play of Nature: Experimentation as Performance; The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics (with Charles C. Mann); and—with Robert Serber—Peace & War: Reminiscences of a Life on the Frontiers of Science. Crease’s translations include American Philosophy of Technology: The Empirical Turn. He lectures widely, and his articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, and elsewhere. He lives in New York City.


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