Scientists are using simulations to recreate the universe, revealing the hidden nature of reality.
Cosmology is a tricky science—no one can make their own stars, planets, or galaxies to test its theories. But over the last few decades a new kind of physics has emerged to fill the gap between theory and experimentation. Harnessing the power of modern supercomputers, cosmologists have built simulations that offer profound insights into the deep history of our universe, allowing centuries-old ideas to be tested for the first time. Today, physicists are translating their ideas and equations into code, finding that there is just as much to be learned from computers as experiments in laboratories.
In The Universe in a Box,cosmologist Andrew Pontzen explains how physicists model the universe’s most exotic phenomena, from black holes and colliding galaxies to dark matter and quantum entanglement, enabling them to study the evolution of virtual worlds and to shed new light on our reality.
But simulations don’t just allow experimentation with the cosmos; they are also essential to myriad disciplines like weather forecasting, epidemiology, neuroscience, financial planning, airplane design, and special effects for summer blockbusters. Crafting these simulations involves tough compromises and expert knowledge. Simulation is itself a whole new branch of science, one that we are only just beginning to appreciate and understand. The story of simulations is the thrilling history of how we arrived at our current knowledge of the world around us, and it provides a sneak peek at what we may discover next.
About the Author
Andrew Pontzen is a professor of cosmology at University College London. He has written for New Scientist, BBC Sky at Night, and BBC Focus; lectured at the Royal Institution; and been featured as an expert on PBS’s NOVA, the Discovery Channel’s How the Universe Works, and other shows. Simulations are a major part of his research which spans cosmology, physics and computation. He lives in London.
Praise for The Universe in a Box:
"Elegantly written. . . . exhilarating, candid” —Wall Street Journal
“A compelling exploration of scientific discovery, historical context, and the philosophical questions prompted by the creation of virtual universes. It is a brisk read, a heartfelt recounting of our ongoing efforts to uncover the Universe’s secrets, and a veritable treasure chest filled with captivating stories.” —Science
“This book is a testament to the amazing potential of simulations to reveal new truths about the world around us and our place within it. An enthralling analysis of simulation, a formidable technology that may usher in a new era of cosmology.” —Kirkus
“Pontzen excels at translating quantum physics and other difficult concepts into lay-friendly terms. . . . this look at the cutting edge of astronomy fascinates.” —Publishers Weekly
“A truly excellent exposition of a fascinating, little understood, and very important scientific activity. I was enlightened, amazed, and profoundly impressed. I’ve seldom seen a book so clear, so vivid, and so full of—well, interesting things.” —Philip Pullman, author of the trilogy His Dark Materials
“Just when the universe thought it was too big and old for us to comprehend, scientists like Andrew Pontzen began capturing it in their computers, and the story of their work is exhilarating.” —Matt Parker, author of Humble Pi
“Andrew Pontzen gives a vivid perspective on what it's like to be a scientist trying to 'model' the universe—and doesn't shy away from highlighting the mysteries that are coming into focus. This fascinating book, written with clarity and zest, deserves wide readership.” —Martin Rees, Great Britain’s Astronomer Royal
“An electrifying new history of the universe and how it all fits together, and of the human effort to unlock its mysteries.” —Hannah Fry, Professor in the Mathematics of Cities at the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and author of Hello World
"Our reality is most likely not a simulation, but it is stunning just how powerful modern simulations have become in describing it. Forget telescopes and microscopes, Pontzen's laboratory sits inside his computer and it is quickly becoming the most important tool in science." —Jim Al-Khalili, Distinguished Chair, Professor of Physics, University of Surrey and author of The World According to Physics