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How Big is Big and How Small is Small: The Sizes of Everything and Why

Popular Science
  • Develops perspective about the sizes in nature
  • Discusses a wide span of science
  • Relates the four forces of physics
  • Explains the sizes of things
  • Full of curious factoids

By: Timothy Paul Smith(Author)

272 pages, 61 b/w illustrations

Oxford University Press

Hardback | Oct 2013 | #206079 | ISBN-13: 9780199681198
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £30.49 $39/€34 approx

About this book

How Big is Big and How Small is Small is about how big the universe is and how small quarks are, and what the sizes of dozens of things are between these two extremes. It describes the sizes of atoms and planets, quarks and galaxies, cells and sequoias. It is a romp through forty-five orders of magnitude from the smallest sub-nuclear particles we have measured, to the edge of the observed universe. It also looks at time, from the epic age of the cosmos to the fleeting lifetimes of ethereal particles. It is a narrative that trips its way from stellar magnitudes to the clocks on GPS satellites, from the nearly logarithmic scales of a piano keyboard through a system of numbers invented by Archimedes and on to the measurement of the size of an atom.

Why do some things happen at certain scales? Why are cells a hundred thousandths of a meter across? Why are stars never smaller than about 100 million meters in diameter? Why are trees limited to about 120 meters in height? Why are planets spherical, but asteroids not? Often the size of an object is determined by something simple but quite unexpected. The size of a cell and a star depend in part on the ratio of surface area to volume. The divide between the size of a spherical planet and an irregular asteroid is the balance point between the gravitational forces and the chemical forces in nature.

Most importantly, with a very few basic principles, it all makes sense. The world really is a most reasonable place.

"Smith's book How Big is Big and How Small is Small is a most enjoyable read, erudite and entertaining. You can learn a great deal not just about how and why we measure things the way we do, but also what limits the sizes of the smallest and largest animals as well as the smallest and largest objects in the Universe. It also puts our human lives into (a Cosmic) perspective. I highly recommend it."
- Vlatko Vedral, Professor of Quantum Information Theory at the University of Oxford and the National University of Singapore


1: From Quarks to the Cosmos - An Introduction
2: Scales of the Living World
3: Big Numbers; Avogadro's Number
4: Scales of Nature
5: Little Numbers; Boltzmann's and Planck's Constant
6: The Sand Reckoner
7: Energy
8: Fleeting Moments of Time
9: Deep and Epic Time
10: Down to Atoms
11: How Small is Small
12: Stepping Into Space - The Scales of the Solar System
13: From the Stars to the Edge of the Universe
14: A Little Chapter About Truly Big Numbers
15: Forces That Sculpture Nature and Shape Destiny

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Tim Smith is a Research Professor at Dartmouth College where he teaches Physics and Environmental Studies. Before then he was a Research Scientist at the MIT accelerator where he spent a decade as part of a team building an experiment to measure the arrangement of quarks inside of neutrons and protons. He has written magazine articles about neutrons, wind power and hiking. In this book he gets to explore all that and much more.

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