Science Seen Physicist and Time One author Colin Gillespie helps you understand your world.

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What’s It to You?

So―a bolt from the blue as the saying goes―I’ve come to understand the way the universe begins. And I’ve concluded I should write a book to share this long-sought understanding with everyone.

Why would anyone set out to write a book for everyone? I can think of only one good reason: Because its subject’s something that affects our lives.

I look around. Computer, phone, both linked to the Internet. My music. And much more. Almost everything I see or hear or touch exists because of physics. Behind the scenes, our whole economy is based on it. For example, I can see how the world’s top employers all depend, day in day out, on quantum mechanics (affectionately known to many as QM).

I take a Google look at QM’s history. Not long ago it’s just a weird idea. But it opens a window into the tiny world of atoms and electrons. While some don’t believe in them, others get excited; they explore the weird idea and with it build the modern world. I realize: Take QM from our world and we might be worse off than people were in the 1930s when average income in America was $1,500. Per family, per year!

Yet today I read another story saying the economy is bogging down. Is it coincidence that physicists are saying physics is now broken? And I find Mike Lazaridis―BlackBerry QM-business leader, fundamental-physics funder―saying, “We need a new discovery.” Photo provided by Perimeter Institute shows Mike Lazaridis, left, creator of BlackBerry, and Howard Burton, director of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. (AP Photo / Perimeter Institute)

Here I am, hunkered down in front of a computer screen, trying to get my head around the implications of the way our universe began. One thing is clear: It lays the basis for new physics at a scale that is staggeringly smaller than the atoms and electrons of QM. I need no Google search to see a deep discovery in fundamental physics could totally transform all of our lives.

I draft some lines that might fit in the kind of book I have in mind.

What shall we say of our stewardship? What will they say, the next generation who will live with lessness? What possibility remains to us for a reply? Unless . . . unless perhaps we might pass on to them a birthright, such ideas of such potency as might lead to a new economy as inconceivable as cell phones, CPUs, genetic codes and googling were not many years ago. They too need hope.


Michael L. Dolfman & Denis M. McSweeney, 100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending: Data for the Nation, New York City and Boston, Washington: United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, p. 15;

Mike Lazaridis (2009), The Public Policy Forum, April 2, speech at a testimonial dinner,

Other reading:

National Research Council (1997), The Physics of Materials: How Science Improves Our Lives, Washington: National Academy Press;

Wikipedia article on QM:

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