Great Lakes Geek Book Review

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

by Robert P. Crease

Robert Crease is a professor at Stony Brook University in NY and writes the Critical Point column every month in Physics World magazine.

Any Top Ten list will spur discussion ("I can't believe he included that/excluded this") and this list is no different. Some are no-brainers and will be familiar to even casual science aficionados.

But the book isn't about the most important experiments - it's about the most "beautiful" experiments. Crease explains the science but also gets into the people behind the science and the creativity and, yes, beauty of the process.

He starts with Eratosthenes 3rd century BC experiment that measured the circumference of the Earth with sticks, shadows and basic geometry.

Galileo has two experiments in the Top 10 - dropping the balls from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to show the same rate of fall even for different weights and his Alpha experiment involving the inclined plane that you may have duplicated in Physics 101.

We read about Newton's splitting of light with prisms and Young's slits and ripple tanks to show the wave nature of light (contradicting Newton). I remember more success with the ripple tanks than the slits in high school lab.

Foucault's Pendulum had to be included and it is still a source of wonder when viewed at the Natural History Museum in University Circle. Yes, it is we (on the Earth) that are constantly moving.

The later choices are less evident - dealing with the atom, electrons and quantum theory - than the classics of mechanics, but still good choices.

The book is a good introduction or refresher to some great science.

Great Lakes Geek Rating: 3.5 out of 5 pocket protectors.

Reviewed by Entreprenerd Dan Hanson, the Great Lakes Geek

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