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The Constants of Nature: The Numbers That Encode the Deepest Secrets of the Universe Paperback – March 9, 2004
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My only quibble is technical as concerns the kindle edition. In most of the discussion and formula scattered about the text (nothing too complicated here, definitions, quantities, and setting boundary conditions) some of the common symbols of physics (pi, the fine-structure constant, and a few others) are rendered only as "?" most, but not all, of the time. This is very annoying to say the least. The editors should have been paying more attention!
Another very good cover of these same subjects can be found in the slightly more recent "The Goldilocks Enigma" by Paul Davies, 2007. Either would be an excellent non-technical introduction to the subject.
The author chronicles the historical development in the physics research of universal constant and touches upon the most fundamental part of creation. How do these constants that are a part of an equation could have impacted a functional universe that supports life? Mathematician Ramanujan once said that "An equation has no meaning unless it expresses the thought of God." The dimensionless constant is certainly the thought of God. Time variation of fundamental constants is subjected to theoretical and experimental research by a number of physicists such as; Arthur Eddington, Paul Dirac, George Gamow, Robert Dicke, Brendan Carter and others. The fine-structure constant was originally introduced in 1916 by Arnold Sommerfeld, as a measure of the relativistic deviations in atomic spectral lines of the Bohr's atomic model. This constsnt is interpreted as a measure of electromagnetic force that holds the atoms together or the strength of the interaction between electrons and photons; the ratio of two energies, the energy needed to bring two electrons from infinity to a distance against their electrostatic repulsion, and the energy of a single photon. It is also defined as the ratio of the strengths of the electromagnetic and gravitational interactions. This constant is a dimensionless quantity (1/137.035999679); hence its numerical value is independent of the system of units used. Many physicists have wondered why God would have created such an odd number for this constant (value of Pi is another example.) One explanation is the cosmological evolution of a quintessence-like scalar field coupled to gauge fields and matter would have effectively modified the coupling constants and particle masses over time. However, the anthropic principle states that the value of the fine-structure is what it is because stable matter could not have existed in the universe if that was any other number. In other words, galaxies, stars, planetary systems and life forms would not have evolved. For instance, if this constsnt was changed by 4%, carbon and oxygen would not have been produced in stars.
Since fine-structure constant is present wherever electromagnetism is, it is determined by various methods from atomic spectra. One is by analyzing the atomic spectra of distant galaxies and stars. The second one is the natural reactor of Oklo has been used to check if the atomic fine-structure constant might have changed over the past 2 billion years. That is because it influences the rate of nuclear reactions. For example, Samarium(149) captures a neutron to become Samarium(150), and since the rate of neutron capture depends on the value of this constant, the ratio of the two samarium isotopes in samples from Oklo can be used to calculate the value of this constant that existed 2 billion years ago. The results are conflicting and it is not clear if these constant are changing. Despite the fact that this book has many irrelevant quotations from unorthodox figures such as; Joan Rivers, Woody Allen, Brooke Shields, W.C. Fields, and George Bush, it is highly recommended.
1. The Cosmology of Extra Dimensions and Varying Fundamental Constants
2. The Role of Neutrinos, Strings, Gravity and Variable Cosmological Constant in Elementary Particle Physics
3. Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life
4. The Constants of Nature: From Alpha to Omega--the Numbers That Encode the Deepest Secrets of the Universe
5. FINE STRUCTURE CONSTANT AND FRAGMENTATION OF THE ELECTRON AND THE INTERCOSMIC RELATIONS.