Faster Than The Speed Of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation

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9780099428084: Faster Than The Speed Of Light: The Story of a Scientific Speculation

The idea that the speed of light is a constant - at 186,000 miles per second - is one of the few scientific facts that almost everyone knows. That constant - c- also appears in the most famous of all scientific equations: e=mc2- Yet over the last few years, a small group of highly reputable young physicists have suggested that the central dogma of modern physics may not be an absolute truth - light may have moved faster in the earlier life of the universe, it may still be moving at different speeds elsewhere today. In telling the story of this heresy, and its gradual journey towards acceptance, Joao Magueijo writes as one of the three central figures in the story, introducing the reader to modern cosmology, to the implications of VSL (variable speed of light) and to the world of physicists. The initial rejection of Magueijo's ideas is beginning to give way to a reluctant acceptance that the young men may have a point - only the next few years will tell the final fate of this 'dangerous' idea.

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Review:

Among physicists, it is widely assumed that one's greatest chance for a breakthrough discovery will come before one reaches the age of 30. True or not, this idea leads young physicists such as João Magueijo to pull out all the intellectual stops in the search for glory and immortality. In Faster Than the Speed of Light, Magueijo reveals the short, brilliant history of his possibly groundbreaking speculation--VSL, or Variable Light Speed. This notion--that the speed of light changed as the universe expanded after the Big Bang--contradicts no less prominent a figure than Albert Einstein. Because of this, Magueijo has suffered more than a few slings and arrows from hidebound, jealous, or perplexed colleagues. But the young scientist persisted, found a few important allies, and finally managed to shake up the establishment enough to get the attention he merited and craved. Magueijo begins the book with a suitably accessible explanation of special and general relativity, then moves on to the ideas that laid the groundwork for VSL. In the process, he rips the doors off of scientific academia and airs quite a bit of dirty laundry. Comparing himself to Einstein throughout the book, Magueijo approaches his topic and its dissemination with cocksure genius, expecting readers to sympathize with him as he battles to win favor. And we do. The scientific process is "rigorous, competitive, emotional, and argumentative," writes Magueijo. His theory could knock down two solid pillars of cosmology--inflation and relativity. Not only does his radical notion deserve a trial by fire, it also deserves a champion like Magueijo, who isn't afraid of the flames. --Therese Littleton

About the Author:

Born in Portugal and educated at the universities of Lisbon and Cambridge, Joao Magueijo (pronounced 'zhwow magwayzhoo) is Reader in Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London, where he was for three years a Royal Society Research Fellow. He has been a visiting researcher at the University of California at Berkeley and Princeton University, and received his doctorate in Theoretical Physics at Cambridge. Faster than the Speed of Light is his first book.

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