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Frank Close

The Void

In ancient times philosophers wondered whether it was possible to have a part of space with absolutely nothing in it. Aristotle decided that it was not - Nature abhors a vacuum. When Frank Close was young he also wondered whether nothingness was possible. In The Void he tells the reader how people have answered this question. He explains how it was found that a vacuum could be produced with a sufficiently good air pump. But then people began to wonder how light and gravity was transmitted through such a vacuum, and invented the luminiferous aether.

Einstein showed that postulating the aether was pointless, but his general relativity introduced a new structure to space and time. An quantum theory introduced more structure to the vacuum - a sea of filled energy states and virtual particles popping in and out of existence. Close goes on to show how this lead to the idea of the Higgs field which gives mass to elementary particles, and he looks at how everything began - could the big bang have arisen from a vacuum fluctuation?

There have been plenty of books about nothing. This one sticks to the point more than most, although sometimes I felt that it wasn't particularly inspiring. But other readers might disagree- it's a short, easy to read book, and if you are interested in some of the deep questions concerning the vacuum then you might well find it worth reading  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews