Ludwig Boltzmann: The Man Who Trusted Atoms

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9780198501541: Ludwig Boltzmann: The Man Who Trusted Atoms

Ludwig Boltzmann arguably played the key role in establishing that submicroscopic structures underlie the ordinary world. He had a tremendous impact on late 19th-century and early 20th-century physics, and he anticipated many contemporary ideas, including Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions and recent theories of knowledge based on Darwinian principles. This book is the first accessible biography of this important figure. Without relying on equations, it provides a deep look at the full range of his scientific and philosophical ideas, discussing both their original context and their relevance today. The book also gives a concise portrait of Boltzmann's life, which, despite his successes, ended tragically in suicide. Drawing on recent research related to some of Boltzmann's more controversial ideas, this book offers fascinating insights into the birth of modern physics.

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About the Author:

Carlo Cercignani is a Professor of Theoretical Mechanics at Politecnico di Milano.


"Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1906) is the scientist to whom, more than anyone else, we owe the great conceptual leap that yielded a joint view of mechanics, statistics, radiation and thermodynamics. . . . Boltzmann paid dearly for his vision, in terms of his own psychological stability and mental health, up to his tragic suicide. . . . Boltzmann had a very intense life, dominated by insecurity, academic feuds and a passion for science. He was also a sensitive musician and a lover of nature, with a keen eye for picking out and explaining to his children, for example, evolutionary mechanisms. He would tell them long tales of a great English scientist sailing around the world in a ship called Beagle, and from that explain why foxes have fur, or birds feathers. . . . Cercignani's beautiful book has the merit, first of all, of bringing Boltzmann fully back to life, as a scientist, a philosopher and a poet, thanks to painstaking research."--Nature

"While researching the mathematical theory of the Boltzmann equation, Cercignani (theoretical mechanics, Politecnico di Milano) encountered the eclectic thought of this Austrian physicist (1844-1906) who established that an atomic structure underlies macroscopic bodies. This biography covers physics and kinetic theory before Boltzmann; his Darwinian theory of knowledge anticipating Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions; relationship with Maxwell, Planck, and other peers; and influence on modern science. Appends mathematical theorems and models. Includes a chronology, portraits, and diagrams related to his work."--SciTech Book News

"Solving the enigma of irreversibility was the great enterprise to which the Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann . . . dedicated his life. . . . Carlo Cercignani's [book] is not about recent developments in nonequilibrium statistical mechanics. It may be described briefly as a careful, in-depth discussion of Boltzmann's science and personality and of the world he lived in. . . . Actually, Boltzmann's scientific ideas have retained immediacy because the development of nonequilibrium statistical mechanics has been slow . . . [Cercignani's book] is obviously a work of love, and I would advise the reader to take time going through it. There are, for instance, sensitive descriptions of the intellectual atmosphere of central Europe in the late 19th century. . . . It is refreshing to see the philosophy of science discussed not by a licensed hermeneutician but by a true scientist like Boltzmann, who is able to disregard formal details and go straight to the important ideas."--Physics Today

"The text is packed with fascinating aspects of Boltzmann's career. . . . In the 1870's, Boltzmann was, in Cercignani's words, 'also busy with an experimental study on the law that according to the Maxwell picture related the dielectric constant and the refractive index of a given material.' The measurements of the dielectric constant were based on electrical attraction or changes in capacitance. Thus they determined the dielectric constant at zero frequency. The good agreement that Boltzmann found with the refractive index . . . was--in part--a stroke of good luck. (If Boltzmann had tried water, he would have been surprised.) And then there were Boltzmann's travels from one university to another, especially during the 'restless years,' from 1888 to his suicide in 1906. . . . I can recommend the book to anyone wanting to know more about Ludwig Boltzmann, a man who was misunderstood by many of his colleagues and yet highly respected . . ."--American Journal of Physics

"This book gives an interesting review of Boltzmann's work and time and the various relationships to other scientists. Boltzmann's equation . . . , Boltzmann's work in statistical mechanics, the problem of polyatomic molecules, and his reflexions on other physical parts are described well. . . . The book contains an appendix, a reference list and a useful index. It is a nice book . . ."--Mathematical Reviews

"...a thorough analysis of Boltzmann's scientific achievements by an expert on modern kinetic theory, who has also made an effort to read the original papers in "dense German" and has surveyed some of the extensive biographical material. The result is a book that can be highly recommended to all physical scientists and mathematicians, including graduate students. Cercignani, who is Professor of Theoretical Mechanics at the Politecnico di Milano, is well known for his research on the Boltzmann equation and is credited with several notable results, such as establishing the Boltzmann-Grad limit hierarchy....Well-written chapters on Boltzmann's life and time and on the early history of thermodynamics and kinetic theory, and followed by chapters on his philosophical views, his relations with his contemporaries, his dispute with the anti-atomists, and his influence on 20th century science." -- Journal of Statistical Physics, Vol 98, No 5/6, 2000

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