December 1, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

How are today's researchers gambling away their credibility? Are physicists getting too far away from the practical world? ...


It seems that modern physics is in trouble – it has become a mess of free parameters, over inflated theories and untestable nonsense. In Bankrupting Physics theoretical physicist Alex Unzicker and science writer Sheilla Jones argue that modern physics, just like the banking sector, has become too big to fail.

Unzicker expertly guides us through the wonderful worlds of cosmology, particle physics and theoretical physics, taking an unflinching look at whether any of it actually makes sense. How, for example, have scientists managed to find a signal ‘consistent’ with the Higgs Boson when we still can’t calculate the exact number of photons emitted when electrical charges are accelerated? Why does the standard model of particle physics need at least 36 kinds of heavy particle to explain itself?

As a physics novice I was initially daunted by the sheer quantity of cosmological and theoretical physics theories that Unzicker introduces in his book, but all the science is clearly explained; my personal favourite analogy is when he uses the idea of Madonna walking through a crowded room to explain the effect of the Higgs field.

As well as comparing physics to a big financial bubble ready to crash, Unzicker also scathingly compares the ideas in the standard model of particle physics to the overtly complicated Epicycles of the middle ages that were used to explain how the universe moved around a central static Earth.

There is a lot of wonderful physics out there but, Unzicker argues, it is becoming more and more detached from reality. Bankrupting Physics is a call to reason for anyone working in physics today – start observing nature again, try to falsify your theories and don’t get carried away with fantastical ideas like supersymmetry, string theory and multiple dimensions unless you can test whether or not they actually exist.