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Exploring the mysteries of the universe: Reality in the Shadows

SMU Research

Originally Posted: December 21, 2017

New knowledge has caused us to reconsider many previous conclusions about what the universe is and how it works.

Despite centuries of scientific advancements, there is much about the universe that remains unknown. New knowledge and discoveries in the last 20 years have challenged previously accepted ideas and theories that were once regarded as scientific truth and have subjected them to increasing scrutiny.

These additions to our knowledge have caused scientists to reconsider many previous conclusions about what the universe is and how it works.

“Reality in the Shadows” or “What the Heck’s the Higgs?” is a new book that explores the concepts that shape our current understanding of the universe and the frontiers of our knowledge of the cosmos.

The authors — two physicists and an engineer — tell us in a manner that non-scientists can readily follow, why studies have moved to superstring theory/M-theory, ideas about extra dimensions of space, and ideas about new particles in nature to find answers. It also explores why these ideas are far from established as accurate descriptions of reality.

“Our book explains how we know what we know about the universe, what we don’t know, and what we wish we did know,” said co-author Stephen Sekula, an associate professor of Physics at SMU. A physicist, Sekula conducts research into the Higgs Boson at the energy frontier on CERN’s ATLAS Experiment.

The book was initiated by Frank Blitzer, an engineer who participated on national space programs like Apollo and Patriot, several years ago, Sekula said. He was joined by co-author S. James Gates Jr., well known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity and superstring theory, a few years ago.

“Frank and Jim sought additional input to help complete the book, and serendipitously Frank’s grandson, Ryan, was an SMU undergraduate and Hunt Scholar who helped connect them to me,” Sekula said. “After over an additional year of work, the book was completed.”

The foundations of modern physics rest on ideas that are over 100 years old and battle-tested, Sekula said.

“But nature has offered us new puzzles that have not yet been successfully explained by those ideas,” he added. “Perhaps we don’t yet have the right idea, or perhaps we haven’t searched deep enough into the cosmos. These are exciting times, with opportunities for a new generation of physicists who might crack these puzzles. Our book will help a curious reader to see the way in which knowledge was established, and encourage them to be engaged in solving the new mysteries.”

“Reality in the Shadows,” available through YBK Publishers, describes how humanity came to learn the workings of the universe as groundwork for the science that found the Higgs particle. Now scientists are hunting for the explanations for dark matter and the accelerated expansion of the cosmos, as well as for the many new questions the Higgs Boson itself has raised.

Scientists have recently discovered colliding black holes and neutron stars, that there is more non-luminous matter (dark matter) in the universe than the ordinary stuff of everyday life, and that the universe seems to grow larger each second at a faster and faster rate. Readers will learn how scientists discern such features of the universe and begin to see how to think beyond what is known to what is not yet known.

Throughout the book are descriptions of important developments in theoretical physics that lead the reader to a step-by-step understanding.

Sekula teaches physics and conducts research at ATLAS. He contributed to the measurement of decay modes of the Higgs boson and to the measurement of its spin-parity quantum numbers. Complementary to these efforts, he has worked with colleagues on the ATLAS Experiment to search for additional Higgs bosons in nature, providing intellectual leadership and direct involvement in several searches.

Gates was named 2014 “Scientist of the Year” by the Harvard Foundation. He was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and received the 2013 National Medal of Science, the highest recognition given to scientists by the United States.

Gates has been featured on many TV documentary programs on physics, including “The Elegant Universe,” “Einstein’s Big Idea,” “Fabric of the Cosmos” and “The Hunt for the Higgs.” His DVD series, “Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality,” makes the complexities of unification theory comprehensible.

Blitzer has more than 50 years of experience in engineering, program management, and business development and participated on national space programs, and The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), holding several patents in guidance and control. He has spent more than 20 years in independent research of the subject of the book. READ MORE