The goal of The Biggest Ideas in the Universe is to bridge the gap between popular-science treatments of modern physics and true expert knowledge. This is the real stuff — equations and all — presented in a way that presumes no prior knowledge other than high-school algebra. Readers will come up to speed about exactly what professional physicists are talking about, with an emphasis on established knowledge rather than speculation.
Volume One, Space, Time, and Motion, covers the domain of classical physics, from Newton to Einstein. We get introduced to Spherical Cow Philosophy, in which complications are stripped away to reveal the essence of a system, and the Laplacian Paradigm, in which the laws of physics take us from initial conditions into the future by marching through time. We learn the basic ideas of calculus, where we can calculate rates of change and how much of a quantity has accumulated. We think about the nature of space and time, separately and together. Finally we are introduced to the mysteries of non-Riemannian geometry and Einstein’s theory of curved spacetime, culminating into a dive into black holes.
To Laureli Ivanoff, climate change is far from an abstract idea. As an Iñupiat writer living in the remote Alaskan town of Unalakleet, she’s seen firsthand the warming planet’s tangible impact on her culture’s food traditions, some of the only practices to survive colonization. “Ice fishing or hunting or just going out and enjoying ourselves, there’s no way to really do that if there isn’t any snow,” she says.
Animals that rely on snow and sea ice, such as the ugruk—or bearded seal—are harder to find as sea ice melts, leaving subsistence hunters concerned for their livelihoods. Although local native communities have weathered many historic hardships before, Ivanoff believes the challenges ahead are unprecedented. “Already every year, we’re wondering, ‘Is the ocean ice going to form?
Energy usage by large, old buildings like the Empire State Building represents a huge obstacle to cities’ dreams of carbon neutrality. New York City’s buildings account for 70% of its carbon emissions, for example, and half of those emissions are produced by the largest 5% of its structures. But retrofitting old buildings to make them more energy efficient represents a formidable challenge, both from an engineering perspective and in terms of convincing owners that doing so is in their financial interest.
In Kenya’s Rift Valley, climate change has brought an unprecedented increase in annual rainfall over the past several years, drowning pastureland, farms, homes, schools, churches, clinics and businesses.
The Great Rift Valley is part of an intra-continental ridge system that runs through Kenya from north to south. It is part of the Gregory Rift, the eastern branch of the East African Rift, which starts in Tanzania to the south and continues northward into Ethiopia. It was formed on the “Kenyan Dome” a geographical upwelling created by the interactions of three major tectonics: the Arabian, Nubian, and Somalian plates. In the past, it was seen as part of a “Great Rift Valley” that ran from Madagascar to Syria. Most of the valley falls within the former Rift Valley Province.