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The Universal Timekeepers

Reconstructing History Atom by Atom
David Helfand(Autor*in)
Columbia University Press
1. Auflage
Erschienen am 12. Oktober 2023
289 Seiten
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978-0-231-55868-6 (ISBN)
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Atoms are unfathomably tiny. It takes fifteen million trillion of them to make up a single poppy seed-give or take a few billion. And there's hardly anything to them: atoms are more than 99.9999999999 percent empty space. Yet scientists have learned to count these slivers of near nothingness with precision and to peer into their internal states. In looking so closely, we have learned that atoms, because of their inimitable signatures and imperturbable internal clocks, are little archives holding the secrets of the past.

David J. Helfand reconstructs the history of the universe-back to its first microsecond 13.8 billion years ago-with the help of atoms. He shows how, by using detectors and reactors, microscopes and telescopes, we can decode the tales these infinitesimal particles tell, answering questions such as: Is a medieval illustrated prayer book real or forged? How did maize cultivation spread from the highlands of central Mexico to New England? What was Earth's climate like before humans emerged? Where can we find clues to identify the culprit in the demise of the dinosaurs? When did our planet and solar system form? Can we trace the births of atoms in the cores of massive stars or even glimpse the origins of the universe itself?

A lively and inviting introduction to the building blocks of everything we know, The Universal Timekeepers demonstrates the power of science to unveil the mysteries of unreachably remote times and places.

Helfand David:
David J. Helfand is the chair of the Department of Astronomy at Columbia University where he has served on the faculty for four decades. He has also been a visiting scientist at the Danish Space Research Institute, the Sackler Distinguished Visiting Astronomer at Cambridge University, and president of the American Astronomical Society. He was a founding tutor and served as president and vice chancellor at Quest University Canada. He has published commentary in Nature, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, among other publications.David J. Helfand, former chair of the Astronomy Department at Columbia University, has served on Columbia's faculty for nearly five decades. He was also president and vice chancellor of Quest University Canada. Helfand is the chair of the American Institute of Physics and a past president of the American Astronomical Society. His commentary has appeared in Nature, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, among other publications, and he is the author of A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind (Columbia, 2016).
1. Calling the Witnesses to History
2. Conceptualizing the Atom: From Philosophy to Science
3. The Atom: A Utilitarian View
4. The Elements: Our Complete Set of Blocks
5. Isotopes: Elemental Flavors
6. Radioactivity: The Imperturbable Clock
7. Stolen and Forged: Forensic Art History
8. The Carbon Clock: Pinning Down Dates
9. History Without Words: Lime and Lead and Poop
10. You Are What You Eat
11. Paleoclimate: Taking the Earth's Temperature Long Ago
12. The Death of the Dinosaurs: An Atomic View
13. Evolution: From Meteorites to Cyanobacteria
14. What's Up in the Air? Earth's Evolving Atmosphere
15. Our Sun's Birthday: The Solar System in Formation
16. Stardust Creation: Building the Building Blocks
17. In the Beginning
Epilogue: A Quark's Tale

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