The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


EPISODE # 318

Suzie Sheehy — The Matter of Everything: How Curiosity, Physics, and Improbable Experiments Changed the World

The Matter of Everything: How Curiosity, Physics, and Improbable Experiments Changed the World (book cover)

Shermer and Sheehy discuss:

  • why there are fewer women in STEM fields
  • what it’s like being a female physicist in a mostly male field
  • Does science progress through falsification, confirmation, consensus, or Bayesian reasoning?
  • What is an atom?
  • What is light?
  • What is the Higgs Boson?
  • What is radioactivity?
  • Experiments: Cathode Ray Tube:

    • X-rays and the Electron
    • The Gold Foil Experiment: the structure of the atom
    • The photoelectric effect: the light quantum
    • Cloud chambers: cosmic rays and new particles
    • Particle accelerators: splitting the atom
    • The Large Hadron Collider: the Higgs Boson
  • Is there a place for God in scientific epistemology?
  • What is time?
  • Is math all there is? Is math universal?
  • Are there other universes and dimensions?
  • the multiverse and its multi-configurations
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • dark energy and dark matter
  • What is gravity, anyway?
  • String theory: how can it be tested?

Suzie Sheehy is a physicist, science communicator and academic who divides her time between research groups at the University of Oxford and University of Melbourne. She is currently focused on developing new particle accelerators for applications in medicine. The Matter of Everything is her first book.

About the Book

Physics has always sought to deepen our understanding of the nature of matter and the world around us. But how do you conduct experiments with the fundamental building blocks of existence? How do you manipulate a particle a trillion times smaller than a grain of sand? How do you cause a proton to sail around a twenty-seven-kilometer-long loop 11,000 times per second? And, crucially, why is all this important?

In The Matter of Everything, accelerator physicist Suzie Sheehy introduces us to the people who, through a combination of genius, persistence and luck, staged the experiments that changed the course of history. From the serendipitous discovery of X-rays in a German laboratory to the scientists trying to prove Einstein wrong (and inadvertently proving him right) to the race to split open the atom, these brilliant experiments led to some of the most significant breakthroughs in science and fundamentally changed our lives. They have helped us detect the flow of lava deep inside volcanoes, develop life-saving medical techniques like diagnostic imaging and radiation therapy, and create radio, TV, microwaves, smartphones — even the World Wide Web itself — among countless other advancements.

Along the way, Sheehy pulls back the curtain to reveal how physics is really done — not only by theorists with equation-filled blackboards but also by experimentalists with hand-blown glass, hot air balloons and cathedral-sized electronics. Celebrating human ingenuity, creativity and above all curiosity, The Matter of Everything is an inspiring story of discovery and a powerful reminder that progress is a function of our desire to know.

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on January 24, 2023.

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