Quantum Fuzz is a bit of a quantum book, if you ask me. It is definitely in more than one state at a time. It’s a history of the development of quantum physics, rich with the details of the many conferences and debates between the many scientists who first struggled with and eventually developed the basics of quantum mechanics. It is also a wide-ranging overview of this, that, and the other quantum thing, cramming what might be a textbook into two paragraphs, sort of like a quantum computer, but with words. Then it is an engineer’s Disneyland of quantum applications in technology and engineering. All in one book, all at the same time.
The history of conferences and debates is some of the most familiar and most interesting. There’s a curious blend of too much and too little detail. At times it feels like a tick-tock of the events of a day at a conference, then we get the life of Einstein in a couple paragraphs. Still, you get a feeling for the passions and personalities of these scientists who overturned our understanding of the world.
The next part looks at the implications of quantum mechanics, things like quantum computing, decryption, encryption. Part Three is a section on the Big Bang and all this astronomical info that is presented a bus tour, but it’s no Hitchhiker’s Guide. Concept after concept is introduce in a paragraph or two. I do like imagining our expanding universe as raisins in bread batter. It is one of the best analogies in the book. The fourth part is how we understand the elements now that we understand atoms differently than we did back when the periodic table was created and what that means in chemistry and materials science.
Much of the book is in the fifth section which covers many of the exciting technologies and applications that derive from quantum mechanics, all about conductivity, superconductors, nanotubes, graphene, and fusion. The possibilities seem to be expanding like our universe.
Quantum Fuzz is filled with interesting information but it tries to do too much too quickly. It becomes overwhelming and often confusing. Walker spends more time explaining the basic concepts which are much more commonly and widely understood than on the more obscure and unfamiliar. It seems as though he thinks once we get the basics, the other stuff will be a snap. For me, this was just the opposite of what I needed. I am fascinated by this stuff and have a decent understanding of the basics so I was impatient with the deliberate instruction in the first section, painstaking explanation of all the more widely understood concepts.
But then we get to the chemistry and the elements and explanation becomes more cursory, more reliant on formulae and math. There are fewer analogies, it begins to feel rushed, as though he is packing it all in with no room to spare. The four appendices at the end of the book would have been so much more useful integrated into the text they elucidate. If I had known, I would have read the appendices when I was reading those topics in the book itself instead of at the end.
I am torn with this book. It is about material that fascinates me, that I enjoy reading about. It is full of information about exciting applications of quantum physics. It is also incredibly confusing and seems written more for engineers and scientists, not lay readers. Actually, the beginning feels like it was written for lay readers and then it feels as though Walker got tired of slowing down for us and started writing for his peers when he began writing about the chemistry and the elements. Then he remembered us towards the end, talking about superconductor trains, Bitter magnets (I am so disappointed it was named after a person rather than some anthropocentric emotion of magnetism.), MRIs and all the wonderful things we can do now we better understand our quantum universe.
So, should you read this book? Of course. Just check out those appendices earlier. Forgive yourself when the chemistry gets too complex and roll your eyes at the formulae and just enjoy the magnificent possibilities or mysterious and constantly changing world.
Quantum Fuzz will be released February 14th, 2017. I was provided an advance e-galley by the publisher through Edelweiss.
- Quantum Fuzz at Prometheus/Penguin Random House
- Michael S. Walker, PhD, is a retired physicist, materials scientist, engineer, inventor, and project manager, who holds degrees from MIT and Carnegie Mellon University. His research has been mainly focused on the development of superconductors and superconducting power applications of a scale to light cities. He is the author or coauthor of more than seventy technical papers and holds a dozen patents. In 1989, he was voted Inventor of the Year by the Eastern New York Patent Law Association for conceiving and developing a unique way of separating minerals using magnetic fluids. (From bio at Edelweiss).