CLEVELAND -- Author and Case Western Reserve University physicist Lawrence Krauss begins his science epic "Atom: An Odyssey from the Big Bang to Life on Earth ... and Beyond" long before matter existed. His story is about the universe told from the perspective of a single oxygen atom.
A drink of water in the Rodin sculpture garden in Paris sets the stage for what becomes a toast to the beginnings of a universe that gave rise to this atom. What follows, he says is "the atom's remarkable and amazing journey that is fraught with accidents and catastrophes that nevertheless ultimately makes life possible, and which will continue after we are gone."
In order to tell about this remarkable journey, Krauss went to the forefront of the latest discoveries over the past three decades in astronomy, biology, geology, and physics to explore the long-term development of the universe.
"The book explains how discoveries over the past 30 years have changed our vision of nature, and have led us to understand such things as how one might start the universe without matter or equal amounts of matter and anti-matter and end up with a universe of stars and galaxies," says Krauss, the chair and Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics.
By telling a story about oxygen, he wanted to show his readers how in a very real way "every atom in our body has been, and will be, in some amazing places," and that forefront of science has a real and immediate connection to the atoms in each of our bodies. His oxygen hero emerges in its present form billions of years after the earliest moments of the Big Bang, where quarks form into protons and neutrons that within minutes become the building blocks for helium and hydrogen -- the first elements.
It takes several billion years before the oxygen atom ultimately forms, and during this time its ingredients experience cosmic odysseys as they travel through space in a still young, unsettled, and dynamic universe.