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Pop Science in Name Only

Updated on November 4, 2016

Voyager 1 Golden Record - The Sounds of Earth


Get the Real Science Deal

One of my favorite pastimes is to watch shows and read books on physics and astronomy. I relish the books that are challenging but don't read like a doctoral thesis. Yes, the following science authors can be viewed as "pop science" but I don't find their writing at all condescending or necessarily dumbed down. They are like nonjudgemental guides that help me understand things that my professors (with their arena-size classrooms) often didn't have the time or patience to explain.

As a teacher, I know that HOW you explain things is important. We are lucky to have some fine communicators that are also physicists and astronomers.

So, let me get enthralled and carried away by their on-screen personas. If I can understand even a small part of what they know, I am totally digging it.

Cosmos: A Space Odyssey

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey Season 1
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey Season 1

Neil deGrasse Tyson not only met Carl Sagan as a young man in high school, he got to hang out with him one cold day in Ithaca to discuss his future in physics and his interest in astronomy. This inspirational meeting was the beginning of a full circle. Tyson went on to become an astrophysicist with his own accomplishments and accolades. Along with writer and producer Ann Druyan, who was Carl Sagan’s wife and collaborator in the original series, they created this new 13 part series.

I saw all 13 episodes. The visuals are stunning, but what impressed me was the way they wove Tyson’s hosting skills with subjects including the creation of the universe, the beginning of life on earth, and the history of Astronomy. The Cosmic Calendar gives perspective to the universe by placing everything from the big bang in January to now in a calendar year. In the history of the universe, humans started on the last day of the last month of this ‘year’.


Whose Universe is It Anyway?

Some other recommended DVDS

Empire of the Sun [HD]

He makes astronomy awesome. Host Dr. Brian Cox is not afraid to venture from a dry, academic delivery and gush about the beauty of the Solar System. I like the Radiohead style music too.

How to Travel to a Parallel Universe

Michio Kaku takes the viewer on a journey. Like the creative imaginings of a science fiction author, he likes to postulate about what could really happen in the near future.

Nova: Fabric of the Cosmos

Brian Greene had PBS shows Fabric of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe. He reaches into some complex theories and mathematics and does a great job explaining them.

Illustration of Gravity



Gravity is the warping (curving) of spacetime. Mass creates a bump or dent into space. Smaller objects are attracted to the mass because it forms a pocket in space and time that tips these objects towards it. A good analogy is a heavy cannon ball denting the smooth surface of a trampoline. Release some tennis balls at the edge and they become drawn into a spiraling rotation down into the dent. The reason time is in the explanation is because being closer or farther from a gravity source changes the speed of time. The neat thing is we are actually constantly falling into the earth. But the mass stops us from going but so far.

Current Experts in Popular Science

Neil deGrasseTyson: Tyson is an astrophysicist, the curator of the Hayden Observatory in New York City, author, speaker and host of the Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey.

Carl Sagan: Sagan was an astronomer, author and educator. He was the host of the original series The Cosmos and worked on the Golden Record for the Voyager I.

Brian Cox: Cox is a physicist and host of the series Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe.

Michio Kaku: Kaku is a physicist, author and host of Sci Fi Science.

Brian Greene: Greene is a physicist, author and expert in String Theory. He was host of the PBS Special The Elegant Universe.

Stephen Hawking: Hawking is a physicist and author of many books including the acclaimed A Brief History of Time.

Lisa Randall: Randall is a physicist at Harvard. She's the writer of numerous articles and author of Higgs Discovery: The Power of Empty Space.

The Current Science Hotties! - My apologies for being a little juvenile here.

Collage by Kim Milai
Collage by Kim Milai | Source

The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.

— Neil deGrasse Tyson

CalabiYau5 String Image


DEFINITION: String Theory

Music in the Spheres

Physicists have been searching for the unified field theory. This long sought-after theory will connect the math of the big (big bang, galaxies) with the math of the small (atoms, quarks, waves). A unified theory must explain gravity in a way that makes sense for both.

Brian Greene is a string-theory advocate. He says if we view particles as one dimensional strings, then the math for explaining gravity becomes the same for both big and small. As I think I understand it, each element of the universe is distinct due to the way their strings vibrate. As a musician, the idea of matter and elements vibrating at a subatomic level is fun and exciting.

Plato's Cave


Plato's Allegory of the Cave

and how Brian Greene compares it to the reality we see (or don't see).

In Plato's Allegory, a group of prisoners can only face a cave wall. On the wall they see shadows of the outside world -- people and objects. The sounds they hear echo off the wall so they think the shadows are making the sounds.

Reality is behind them but they cannot see it.

For Plato, the philosopher is the man that can finally turn around and see the reality.

In his book The Hidden Reality, Brian Greene describes how physicists are studying theories that may eventually prove how the reality we see may also be "shadows" of a different dimension. For example: What we see could be holographic 3-dimensional images of a 2-dimensional reality. Or we could very well be existing in a multi-dimensional universe but we can only see and feel three dimensions. Blows your mind, uh?

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow


The Grand Design

Stephen Hawking broke out of the academic circles with his discoveries about the universe in the book A Brief History of Time. This is his newest book that takes those discussions further. Essentially he talks about the idea of multiple realities and how the current theories are pointing towards this. He is another person I believe is fulfilling his destiny to help humanity progress to the next level. Grand Design has overall great reviews.

I personally believe that science and spirituality can coexist (although some of these authors would disagree with me). When I see these amazing theories and discoveries, it makes me feel all the more a part of something more.

This is Not the Alternate Universe I Was Looking For

Some recommended BOOKS


I haven't reread this Carl Sagan book in a long time but if you are building an Astronomy library for the amateur, this is numero uno. This book and show were made in the 1970s and some of the material is outdated. But the book’s writer and show’s host Carl Sagan is the yardstick that all the other science books and shows have to measure up to.

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

I read Neil deGrasse Tyson's Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandries. He's a good writer and carries a great sense of humor. He's also written The Pluto Chronicles.

Higgs Discovery: The Power of Empty Space by Lisa Randall.

This short book helps to explain what all the fuss is about the Higgs particle or 'God' particle. She describes how the tests are conducted to prove it's probable existence.

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality

I’ve read this book by Brian Greene. He is one of the physicists open to string theory. I’ve also read his books, The Elegant Universe and The Hidden Reality, the last of which I wrote a book review. I advise reading his books and then getting the audio book to reinforce the ideas. They get heady, but he uses diagrams that help with his examples.

Higgs Boson Plush

from Particle Zoo
from Particle Zoo | Source


Higgs boson is a hard to detect particle that gives other particles their mass properties. It's been explained as a syrupy molasses that sticks to some particles more than others. This "worker bee" takes the universe's energy and changes it into mass. That's why the recently discovered proof of the Higgs boson is such a big deal. Almost as big as finding the unified theory.

The New York Times has an excellent animated slide show that explains Higgs boson (below).

Three Sample Videos

I love how these shows and presentations portray scientific information with a sense of awe and wonderment.

Dr. Brian Cox from Wonders of the Solar System. The Order of the Solar System.

Brian Greene's TED talk on making sense of string theory.

Comments are Welcome - Let me know what you think about my vocabulary definitions.

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    • Kim Milai profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Milai 

      4 years ago

      @dwelburn: Excellent question. I forget but it has something to do with plank?

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      How long are these pieces of string?

    • Kim Milai profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Milai 

      4 years ago

      Hey the first Cosmos show was on with Neil deGrasse Tyson. That giant calendar was outrageous!

    • Kim Milai profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Milai 

      4 years ago

      @benjamindlee: You're quite welcome

    • benjamindlee profile image


      4 years ago

      Interesting mixture of info on science. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kim Milai profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Milai 

      4 years ago

      @Adventuretravels: Thank you so much adventuretravelshop, I love the things I did also but this is a way for me to view science without feeling the pressure of a class.

    • Kim Milai profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Milai 

      4 years ago

      @Merrci: Thank you Merrci, I am more with you than you think. Many times I read a section and say, "Oh I get it!" Then when I try to explain it, I can't even start. :)

    • Adventuretravels profile image


      4 years ago from UK

      It is a very exciting topic and you write enticingly. I was just like you -not good at math so I went into the arts - in my case it was acting and threatre directing -then teaching. I don't regret that - but I wish I knew more about these things -my son keeps asking!! :( Really nice lens.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      4 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Great definitions! And a very interesting lens. I'm not on your level of reading but do find science more and more fascinating the older I get. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Kim Milai profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Milai 

      4 years ago

      @lesliesinclair: I'm so glad Papier. I hope more people find this topic to be as exciting as I do. Thank you for commenting.

    • lesliesinclair profile image


      4 years ago

      Not by me anyway, but they're written in such an accessible way that makes me want to read more.


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