Book review – The Quantum Realm: Philly the Photon by Mark A Montgomery

TQR BOOK COVERI spend my working life helping to repackage scientific findings into formats that allow them to reach new audiences, namely plain-language summaries and podcasts. So, when I was introduced to a SciFi novella for children that prominently features quantum physics, I was intrigued.

Quantum physics (also known as quantum mechanics) is a theory that describes nature at very small scales, at the level of atoms and the ‘subatomic’ particles they consist of. One such subatomic particle known as a photon carries light and other electromagnetic energy.

In The Quantum Realm: Philly the Photon, we meet a boy called Sebastian. After being scared by a thunderstorm, Sebastian’s father encourages Sebastian to ask questions about the nature of light. That night Sebastian has a vivid dream in which he enters the Quantum Realm, leading to an adventure in search of Grunk the Great Graviton (AKA  gravitational force). Along the way, Sebastian confronts some of his fears and learns more about quantum physics.

I have mixed feelings about this story. Some parts of it were rather entertaining and I liked how Mark A Montgomery introduces various concepts in quantum physics in the form of sentient beings that Sebastian can talk to. The characteristics of these characters has clearly been carefully thought through to reflect the nature of the particles they represent, for example, Philly the Photon is very excitable while Grunk lurks deeper within the Quantum Realm, reflecting how the gravitational force is present in atoms but not as important as the other forces at play. However, I wasn’t totally convinced by Sebastian’s character because in much of the dialogue he comes across as being much older than the young boy we meet at the beginning of the story.

I also found it quite hard to keep up with all the new information (and characters) that were introduced along the way. Admittedly, this could be partly because I’m a sleep-deprived new parent, but it does worry me because, although I am not an expert in particle physics, I am not a complete stranger to it. The sheer amount of information packed into the story’s 94 pages may be off-putting to school students who aren’t already pretty interested in physics.

Overall, I think this book is a fun story that provides a different way to learn about the basics of quantum physics and the scientific method. I think it would be of interest to educators who are looking for an unusual way to introduce quantum physics to their students, perhaps in extracurricular science clubs. Montgomery promises to return to the Quantum Realm so it will be interesting to see where the story goes next.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from a book publicity company. The views are my own.

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Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

51miGrYIk-LIn Lab Girl, scientist Hope Jahren has cleverly weaves a memoir of her own life with passages about the lives of plants, her scientific passion. From her childhood in a small town in Minnesota to her current position as a Professor at the University of Hawai’i, she gives a candid account that includes some of the adventures, funny incidents, obstacles, and shifts in her scientific thinking that happened along the way. The book is a fascinating window into the life of a gifted, passionate, yet (reassuringly) human scientist. If you haven’t read it yet, then I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy.

If you aren’t convinced by my mini-review, then I suggest you check out this longer review from the NY times.