Tag Archives: physics

On black holes and WordPress

One of the cool things about being a science fiction writer is the cool stuff you learn in the name of “research.” I’ve been doing a lot of reading up on black holes, in particular, “subatomic” black holes and it is a fascinating subject. Some of what I have been reading are academic papers, which can be mathematically dense at times, often going well beyond my meager abilities to differentiate and integrate, but by reading some secondary sources, I’m beginning to get the drift and some of this stuff is actually starting to make sense. What’s more, the story for which I am doing the research hinges in part on the properties of these special black holes, and some of what I learned today helps make for an interesting plot problem.

Related to this (as you will see in a moment) is that fact that one of the new features of WordPress 3.1 is that it supports LaTeX. Non-geek friends will most certainly make plenty of jokes about LaTex, but LaTex is actually a really cool markup language that evolved from TeX and allows for the rendering of arbitrarily complex mathematical formulas. Back in the day, I used to write up my calculus lecture notes in LaTex because I could render all the equations and their intermediary states. Combing this functionality with what I’ve been learning about black holes, I could tell you for instance, that for a black hole with a mass M, its effective radius, R is

R = \frac{2GM}{c^2}

Isn’t that just the coolest thing ever? I’m so impressed that WordPress now includes this capability. I could go on and tell you that the temperature T of a black hole with an effective radius R is

T = \frac{hc}{4\pi kR'}

Of course, I can render any arbitrarily complex equation with relative ease using LaTeX’s markup language directly in WordPress, but you get the point. I’ve been taking lots of notes on these black holes, incidentally, and if I can validate my understanding of these properties with some friends with backgrounds in physics, then I think I’ll have the foundation for a pretty good hard SF story. Stay tuned.

The Trinity test

I have read two-and-a-half books on the creation and use of the atomic bomb. The first was Richard Rhodes Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb, which went into great detail on the building of the bomb. I also read Genius by James Gleick, a biography of Richard Feynman, one of the many physicists who worked on the bomb. And now, I am halfway through American Prometheus, another Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Halfway through the book, the Trinity test has just taken place and I can’t emphasize enough how much of a chill it causes in me to read descriptions of the test, even though I have read them several times before. It is perhaps one of the best examples of cognitive dissonance that I can imagine: the impressiveness of the human imagination to deduce such staggering power and pry the secrets loose from Nature; and yet at the same time, the horror of the invention in the hands of fallable men.