Friday, March 22, 2013

Local Author Interview Series: Adam Bincer

For this installment of the Local Author Interview Series, I contacted Emeritus Professor Adam Bincer to ask about his new book, his writing experience, the little biographies of physicists and mathematicians he includes at each first mention, and more.

Bincer's recently published book, Lie Groups & Lie Algebras: A Physicist's Perspective, will be hitting the Physics Library New Book Shelf next month.  

Here is what he had to say:

As I have retired I found myself with a lot of free time so I thought that the notes that I had from teaching a class on Group Theory at UW might make a good book. The unexpected challenges in writing the book came when on a couple of occasions I had trouble understanding what my notes suggested was "obvious".

Of the people I mention in my book Weyl would be my favorite. First of all he felt compelled to leave Germany because he would have nothing to do with the Nazis - and he was smart enough to see how evil they were as early as 1933. In contrast as late as 1939 my parents chose to return to Krakow in western Poland from Lwow in eastern Poland where we have fled when war broke out. They figured that it would be better to be under Hitler but at home than under Stalin away from home. Fortunately, as it turned out, all refugees like us were deported by the Soviets deep into Asia which is how we survived the war.

In an obituary on Weyl Freeman Dyson quotes him as having said "In my work I have always tried to unite the true with the beautiful; but when I had to choose one or the other, I usually chose the beautiful." and that is another reason why Weyl is my favorite. Dirac was another great scientist who admired beauty and saw it as a reason for validating a theory. But not everybody saw it that way - Pauli supposedly said "Elegance is for tailors." - I think he was wrong.

I believe that a beautiful piece of mathematics belongs in physics. When non Abelian gauge theory was dreamed up by Yang and Mills there was no place for it in physics but that changed with the advent of quantum chromodynamics.

Here are some books that I have read recently: I have always been fascinated by Greek mythology and I recommend two recent retellings of the Iliad, "Ransom" by David Malouf which tells the story as seen by Priam, and "The Song of Achilles" which tells it from the point of view of Patroclus. Another beautiful book is "The Song of the Kings"by Barry Unsworth which tells the story of Iphigenia at Aulis and particularly focuses on Odysseus who is presented as a pathological liar.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

UW-Madison Libraries Book Madness!

It's March Madness in Madison.   Boys and girls state basketball championships.  The men's basketball team in their 15th straight NCAA Tournament.  What more could a Badger possible want?

You guessed it -- the UW-Madison Libraries Book Madness.  Eight genre brackets, 64 books, 1 champ!  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Local Author Interview Series : Duncan Carlsmith

Today I have another local author interview for you all.  Duncan Carlsmith agreed to answer a few questions for the blog.  His book, Particle Physics, was published last summer.

  • What inspired you to write your book and what need does it fill?
'Particle Physics' presents elementary particle experiments and standard model theory to the advanced undergraduate in physics without handwaving and with minimal formalism. It was inspired in part by the classic text 'Quarks and Leptons' by UW Professor Francis Halzen and Alan Martin. 'Particle Physics'  describes historical and contemporary (LHC) experiments and develops standard model tree level calculations based on Feynman diagrams. Additionally,  some issues beyond the standard model such as neutrino mass and dark matter in the context of cosmology are described. 

  • What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing this book?
It can be fun and informative to create exercises based on published articles.

  • Did you come across any unexpected challenges while writing?  How is writing a book different than writing a journal article?
A textbook and an article are quite different. An article is supposed to be objective to a fault. Through the choice of topics and examples, the author has the freedom to inject into a text something of his or her personality, but not too much.

  • Do you have any advice or suggestions for the aspiring physicist?
John Muir (a Badger) wrote something that  stuck with me:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
My First Summer in the Sierra (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911), on page 110 of the Sierra Club Books 1988 edition.
I encourage physics students to study everything (all aspects of physics, chemistry, biology,  geoscience, astronomy...) and to consider various careers (academic research, entrepreneurship...).

  • What are you reading now? 
A snow storm of physics papers of course but I am also educating myself a bit about bioengineering, next generation sequencing,...

  • What do you enjoy most about Madison?
Madison is a wonderful city full of interesting engaged people.  Get out there! 

Copies of Particle Physics in the Library Catalog

Friday, March 8, 2013

Local Author Interview Series : George Hrabovsky

For the second installment of our Local Author Series (you can see the first one with Vernon Barger here), we were able to get in contact with George Hrabovsky, the New York Times bestselling author, citizen scientist, and Madisonian.  
  • How did you get involved in writing this book?

I was watching the video lectures that Leonard Susskind has and thought, “This would make a wonderful book.” So I looked to see if it was a book. When I found that it wasn’t, I contacted Prof. Susskind, introduced myself, and suggested that I could write the book. we exchanged some emails and he gave me the go-ahead. We would base the book on his lectures, but we would also include basic calculus and linear algebra for those who did not have a lot of mathematical preparation—trying to make the book self-sufficient. I sent his the first four chapters, two lectures and two interludes on calculus, and we decided to go ahead. I wrote the first two drafts, he wrote the third, and we worked through the final draft together using DropBox and email.

  • Did you start by basically transcribing the lectures, or did Susskind do the initial writing?  

I started by transcribing the lectures. Of course, it wasn’t just copying the lectures. You know, every lecturer fumbles around from time-to-time, so I made sure those things were cleaned up. Also, if I thought there was a better way to say something, I changed it. We operated under the principle that for the first draft I was to, “Write it any way you want.”

  • Were there any difficulties coauthoring a book long distance?  How did the two of you communicate / coordinate writing?

Sure, any collaboration has rough spots, this was not any different. Working halfway across the country was at times frustrating; it can take a day or two to work out something that would take five minutes in an office.

  • The first print run of your book has sold out.  What do you think about that?  Did the reception of this book exceed your expectations?

To say the least! I have long held the belief that there is an untapped reservoir of people who want to physics as a hobby—not crackpots, but serious people who just don’t want to go to school. The fact that so many people bought the book makes me feel good on several levels. Sure, it is nice to sell so many books. But on a deeper level it says something that there are so many people out there who want to learn how theoretical physics is really done, not just popularizations. The fact that we were able to provide a tool for those people is a really awesome phenomena—and a responsibility.

  • We understand that a book on quantum mechanics will be coming out in the near future.  When can we look forward to seeing that?  And will there be more books in this series?

Yes, a quantum mechanics has been written—though I did not collaborate on that project, so I do not know when it is coming out. I will either be collaborating on the third book (special relativity and classical fields) or I will be writing one of my own (either on mathematical methods or astrophysics).
You're a big Mathematica fan.  Did you use Mathematica for the typesetting? 
Yes, I wrote and typeset the book in Mathematica 7, 8, and 9. I produced all of the drawings in it, too.

  • Who wrote the introductions to each chapter?

Lenny wrote most of them, I wrote a couple. It was funny how that came about; we were writing about Galilean transformations and he was using Alice and Bob. I suggested George and Leonard. He countered with George and Lenny from, “Of Mice and Men". I suggested we introduce each chapter with it. A lot of people like it.

  • What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing this book?

How the book publishing industry works. I have been a writer for 36 years and have published a lot of articles, reports, and the like. This is the first book I published through someone else. It was an eye-opening experience.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Local Author Interview Series : Vernon Barger

As you might have seen, Vernon Barger's new book, the Physics of Neutrinos is on the New Book Shelf.  I decided to kick off our new Local Author Interview Series by asking him a few questions about physics, writing, and recreation.  You can check out his books in the library catalog, linked at the bottom of the interview.
  • What inspired you to write your book and what need does it fill?

Discoveries in neutrino physics have been breathtaking and of broad interest.  There was a need to bring together what is known about these mysterious particles.

  • What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing this book?

 I was surprised by how many avenues remain for exploration.

  • Do you have any advice or suggestions for the aspiring physicist?

 My advice to the aspiring physicist is to always be open to go in new directions.

  • What are you reading now? 

I am reading "Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt." 

  • What do you enjoy most about Madison?

Along with the lakeshore path, what I enjoy most about Madison is the easy availability of inspiring lectures, especially at WID.

Copies of The Physics of Neutrinos in the Library Catalog

Other Books by Vernon Barger in the Library Catalog

Stay tuned for more local author interviews in the coming weeks and months!