Eli Bendersky's website - Physicshttps://eli.thegreenplace.net/2022-10-20T03:29:22-07:00Book review: "The Future of Fusion Energy" by J. Parisi and J. Ball2022-10-19T20:25:00-07:002022-10-20T03:29:22-07:00Eli Benderskytag:eli.thegreenplace.net,2022-10-19:/2022/book-review-the-future-of-fusion-energy-by-j-parisi-and-j-ball/<p>Fusion research is back in the news again, due to multiple factors. I've been
long interested in this topic and have seen this book mentioned in several
places since it came out in 2019. Now that I finally got it and read it, I'm
really happy I did. I think …</p><p>Fusion research is back in the news again, due to multiple factors. I've been
long interested in this topic and have seen this book mentioned in several
places since it came out in 2019. Now that I finally got it and read it, I'm
really happy I did. I think it's likely the best book I've read this year, and
one of the best works of non-fiction in recent memory.</p>
<p>What makes the book so great is the combination of scientific, yet undestandable
writing. The authors achieved a level of clarity and organization of thought
that's enviable, particulary for describing a topic of immense essential
complexity like nuclear fusion. It really is very, very well done; the kind of
presentation of a technical topic that I can only strive to achieve in my own
humble writings.</p>
<p>The book doesn't shy away from equations, but I don't think anything beyond late
high-school math and physics is required for decent understanding. The authors
start from the basics, carefully laying down the foundation, but manage to stave
off boredom by focusing on the big picture at the same time. "Simple" ideas for
a fusion device are presented; then, issues with those designs are discussed and
solutions are proposed. After repeating this process several times, the book
provides a pretty decent description of state-of-the-art devices, including a
detailed overview of what ITER is going to be. All along, the book is written
in such a way that obviates almost all "but why" and "what if" questions, by
laying out multiple alternatives for potential challenges and carefully
discussing them in succession.</p>
<p>While it focuses mostly on nuclear fusion for electricity power plants, the
book has a few other interesting chapters. For example, the second chapter
is a whirlwind tool of all the potential energy generating methods at
humanity's disposal. Everything is clearly quantified, with nice
back-of-the-envelope calculations. Have you ever wondered just how much total
windpower there is... on Earth? Or, could we satisfy all our needs by
harvesting the energy from waves, or geothermal energy? The book answers
all these questions, and many more. I learned so much just from this chapter, it
alone is worth the cost of the book! Another fascinating chapter talks about
space-travel propulsion and how fusion could be important there as well.</p>
<p>Having read this book (twice in succession, which is something I rarely do,
but it's simply <em>this</em> good) I feel much better equipped to understand
the news occasionally published about fusion, including all the press releases
from fusion start-ups. And I've acquired a sobering appreciation for the huge
complexity of the problem fusion scientists and engineers are trying to solve.
If you're interested in science, and in energy science in particular, this book
is really amazing and highly recommended.</p>
Book review: "QED - The strange theory of light and matter" by Richard Feynman2009-01-05T20:18:25-08:002022-10-04T14:08:24-07:00Eli Benderskytag:eli.thegreenplace.net,2009-01-05:/2009/01/05/book-review-qed-the-strange-theory-of-light-and-matter-by-richard-feynman
<p>
QED (Quantum Electrodynamics) is a relatively new field of physics, specifying
how light and matter interact. It mathematically describes all phenomena
involving electrically charged particles interacting by means of exchange of
photons.
</p><p>
Feynman is possibly the best guy to write a book about QED, because apart from
being a legendary …</p>
<p>
QED (Quantum Electrodynamics) is a relatively new field of physics, specifying
how light and matter interact. It mathematically describes all phenomena
involving electrically charged particles interacting by means of exchange of
photons.
</p><p>
Feynman is possibly the best guy to write a book about QED, because apart from
being a legendary teacher of physics, he's also made direct and important
contributions to the study of QED, and won his Nobel prize for this work in
1965.
</p><p>
The approach Feynman picks for this book is "for newbies", although I doubt that
newbies will gain much from this book. The concepts are described in them
lucidly and I don't think an intelligent reader will have trouble understanding
them. But for a reader without any background in physics, the explanations won't
mean much. The true "aha" moments I had while reading this book came when
Feynman offered an illuminating fresh explanation for some phenomena I was aware
of from my undergraduate courses in physics.
</p><p>
The book is very short - only 150 pages of it, and leaves the reader with a
large appetite for more. Unfortunately, it's doubtable how much further can be
explained without getting into the complex math that's used to describe these
topics. Moreover, I wish there was some math in this book, as in a few places
it's obvious that Feynman refrains from providing a full explanation because the
readers have absolutely no mathematical preparation.
</p><p>
I can't say the book is perfect - in some places the explanations are not very
clear, and many topics are left uninterpreted. But it's very good indeed, and I
highly recommend it for anyone with interest in physics and "how the world
works" in general.
</p>