Picking Your Brains

Dear LWON readers, I’d like to ask you a question. Twice recently I’ve written about properties of black holes that blow my mind. In each instance, my inspiration was a detail from a movie. First was Interstellar. The great gravitational grip of the black hole in that movie, as is the case for all black holes, distorts […]

The Greatest Athlete in the World

On Wednesday, at 3:25 Pacific Standard Time, two scruffy, skinny men embraced atop Yosemite’s El Capitan. To the casual observer, just a couple dudes in a national park trying to get off the mountain before sunset. Yet, these men had accomplished something so amazing that the sitting US president would call and congratulate them. So difficult […]

Marvin Goldberger, Always Called “Murph”: Part 2

Part 1 is here. While Murph was still at Princeton, in his first years there, he was spending summers consulting, sometimes for defense contractors, sometimes for the Los Alamos National Laboratory.  (A lot of physicists did this: academic scientists’ salaries run for nine months; they needed summer money.)  Then a little later, during the post-Sputnik years, […]

Marvin Goldberger, Always Called “Murph”: Part I

The day before Thanksgiving, Murph Goldberger died.  He was old, he’d been born in 1922; and in those nine decades, he’d collected an extraordinary amount of life.  He was drafted right out of college into the Manhattan Project’s brilliant and very young Special Engineering Detachment, where he met his wife, Mildred; and ever after if […]

The Writings on the Wall

    You’d think a wall panel in the Galileo gallery in the Galileo wing of the Galileo Museum would be a good place to get an accurate context for Galileo’s historical significance. You’d be wrong: “These astronomical discoveries heralded a revolution destined to demolish an image of the universe that had lasted for two thousand […]

Weapons-Grade Private Enterprise

Over the years, I’ve met a number of physicists who had direct or indirect connections with the Manhattan Project and who then spent the rest of their lives trying to get the nuclear weapons genie back into the bottle and the bottle corked.  I think of these physicists as the old arms-controllers. They’re impressive people. […]

13 Years Later and Still Bracing

When I realized that I was scheduled to post on the 13th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, I decided I should write something about the legacy of that day. I want so badly to find a kernel of hope, but current events leave me with nothing but pessimism. Violence has begotten more violence. Since September 11, 2001, […]