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Science is scary, fun, mind-blowing

Book coverScience writer Marcus Chown has made a career combining his love of physics and English.

Books like We need to talk about Kelvin and Quantum Theory cannot hurt you explain tricky scientific concepts and ideas in a way everyone can understand. But even he admits:

the universe we live in is really, really amazingly weird, stranger than anything that we could possibly have invented.  I find it very exciting but it does mean that you can’t grasp it in its entirety.
It’s like, the world is essentially four-dimensional. We live in three dimensions of space, one of time. Einstein discovered that gravity is the warping of space-time. We can’t see it because we cannot experience four dimensions. We can only experience three dimensions. Or the “Big Bang” itself. You can’t get your head around it completely. How could it have happened everywhere at once? But it’s a four-dimensional thing so you can’t get your head around it.

From an interview with Marcus on the Christchurch City Libraries’ web site

Want to expand your brain? Marcus has given us this quiz so you can test YOUR knowledge of the universe:


1. If all the empty space were squeezed out of matter, the human race could fit in:
a) Wembley Stadium?
b) The area of the Isle of Wight?
c) The volume of a sugar cube?

2. Einstein famously said:
a) God does not play roulette with the Universe
b) God does not play dice with the Universe
c) God does not play poker with the Universe

3. The faster you travel:
a) The taller you get
b) The slimmer you get
c) The lighter you get

4. The best place to look for evidence of the big bang in which the Universe was born is:
a) On your TV
b) In your washing machine
c) At the Greenwich Meridian

5. Most of the Universe gives is currently invisible to our telescopes – but how much?
a) 1%
b) 50%
c) 98%

6. The scientists who won the Nobel prize for detecting the faint “afterglow” of the big bang thought they had found:
a) the glow of pigeon droppings
b) the glow of street lights
c) the glow of glow worms

7. Einstein’s mathematics professor called him a:
a) lazy possum
b) lazy dingo
c) lazy dog

8. Today’s sunlight was made:
a) 30,000 years ago
b) 300 minutes ago
c) 3 seconds ago

9. Aged 16, Einstein came up with the idea of relativity after wondering what it might be like to travel on a:
a) sound wave
b) light wave
c) steam train

10. The first time anyone ever saw an atom was in:
a) 1980
b) 1880
c) 55 BC

See if you've got the right answers.

January 2010