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From a star theoretical physicist, a journey into the world of particle physics and the cosmos—and a call for a more liberatory practice of science.
Winner of the 2021 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science & Technology
Winner of the 2022 Phi Beta Kappa Book Award in Science
Winner of the 2022 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award
A Finalist for the 2022 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
A Smithsonian Magazine Best Science Book of 2021
A Symmetry Magazine Top 10 Physics Book of 2021
An Entropy Magazine Best Nonfiction Book of 2020-2021
A Publishers Weekly Best Nonfiction Book of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2021
A Booklist Top 10 Sci-Tech Book of the Year
In The Disordered Cosmos, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein shares her love for physics, from the Standard Model of Particle Physics and what lies beyond it, to the physics of melanin in skin, to the latest theories of dark matter—along with a perspective informed by history, politics, and the wisdom of Star Trek.
One of the leading physicists of her generation, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is also one of fewer than one hundred Black American women to earn a PhD from a department of physics. Her vision of the cosmos is vibrant, buoyantly nontraditional, and grounded in Black and queer feminist lineages.
Dr. Prescod-Weinstein urges us to recognize how science, like most fields, is rife with racism, misogyny, and other forms of oppression. She lays out a bold new approach to science and society, beginning with the belief that we all have a fundamental right to know and love the night sky. The Disordered Cosmos dreams into existence a world that allows everyone to experience and understand the wonders of the universe.
we the black bodies understand each other at visible frequencies
without a dissection or death—which is to say witness us the black bodies rejoice to become mortals again because here is what is true:
a black body radiator be in thermodynamic equilibrium which is to say
a black body be at rest yes let the black bodies rest
—Lena Blackmon, from “quantum distributions for Sarah Baartman”
People need to know that we live in a universe that is bigger than the bad things that are happening to us.
IN THE BEGINNING
A Bedtime Story
ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS A UNIVERSE. WE ARE NOT sure about how it started or whether there is a reason. We don’t know, for example, if spacetime is ordered or disordered at the smallest scales, which are dominated by the weirdness of quantum mechanics. We are pretty sure that during the first sliver of a trillionth of a second it expanded very rapidly so that for the most part it looked the same in every direction and looked the same from every position. It was sameness everywhere. Except that particles started to blip out of nothing due to random fluctuations caused by quantum effects, maybe in spacetime, we are still not super sure about that. Then again, we are not super sure about this, either: for some reason those particles formed more matter than antimatter. That process, which formed a particle type called baryons, is called baryogenesis. From there those baryons started to form structures, and from those structures stars formed. Then the stars got old and some of them died in super epic, rather fabulous fashion. They exploded into supernovae, making heavy elements like carbon and oxygen in the process. Those elements went on to be the basis for all life on Earth. Earth is a planet, one of the structures that formed around stars from the leftovers of supernovae. Eventually, a smaller type of structure that we call life formed on Earth. Some of the life-forms that evolved were relatively hairless apes that use a variety of methods of communication. There are about 7 billion of these apes, with various levels of eumelanin and pheomelanin in their skin and hair, giving them a range of colors. The apes also have a lot of different hair textures. Some of the ones with less eumelanin have for a long time now been cruel to the ones with more, some of whom we know as “Black people.” We know why this is although we don’t fully understand the why, but it might be due to laziness or because they are jealous of our boogie. But despite this, Black lives come from the same baryogenesis, the same supernovae, and the same structure formation. No matter what the lowest-eumelanin people say, Black Lives Are Star Stuff and Black Lives Matter—all of them.
DESPITE THE FACTS OF THIS STORY, THERE’S STILL A LOT THAT we don’t know about the universe. In science, we tend not to think in these terms—imagining the subject (us) and object (universe) to be distinct. This way of thinking is something we inherit from European thought, specifically the ideas of René Descartes. When we study the Andromeda Galaxy, we record its details as Cartesian thinkers, seeing it as something apart from ourselves and our home in the Milky Way. But at the same time, we are in a very technical sense bound up with Andromeda. It has its own story: it is the Milky Way’s nearest major neighbor, and its existence does not trace back to a common origin with the Milky Way. Yet, in the future, these two galaxies will merge because they are bound together in a gravitational potential, which we can think of as a well in which they are both slowly spiraling downward, destined to eventually meet. Don’t worry—this collision isn’t set to be fully underway for another 4 billion years, and it won’t be the kind of violent chaos that we imagine when we think about the word “collision.” This isn’t two cars smashing into each other, quickly and violently. Rather, it is stars and gas and (maybe?) dark matter particles reorganizing themselves into a new formation, guided by their gravitational relationships with one another.
This story is maybe our story. I say maybe because around the time that this collision occurs, our sun will be dying and our solar system will be destroyed in its death throes. Before its life ends completely, the sun will expand the amount of space it takes up, changing what constitutes the habitable zone of this solar system before eventually destroying the earth entirely. By then, we may have self-immolated anyway, but perhaps we will have just relocated to another solar system in a galaxy far, far away, using technology that is completely unimaginable and even unbelievable to me now. Or perhaps we will be in a solar system closer by, still in the Milky Way, in which case we will be carried along with the collision. The observations that our progeny will use to watch this phenomenon slowly unfold over the course of millions of years will require careful calculations about their location relative to all of the action.
As it is, we already do this. We are always studying our location in the universe, even when we tell ourselves that we are simply looking outward, beyond ourselves. In our attempts to learn more about the structure of galaxies, we spend an enormous amount of time looking at our own and wondering if it is normal. We are still unsure whether the Milky Way is an average spiral galaxy or whether there is something special about it. Even though we are not the center of the universe, because indeed the universe has no center, we are the reason that we bother with the universe at all. Our location in all of it matters.
Some of us wonder about where we belong more than others. I am a descendant of Indigenous Africans whose connection to the land was forcibly severed through kidnapping and the colonization of their bodies. West Africa is enormous and full of so many different peoples. I do not know and will likely never know for sure which Indigenous communities my ancestors came from, so the question of location remains fraught for me. I am also by and for East LA (east of downtown Los Angeles), and forged from Black American, Black Caribbean, Eastern European Jewish, and Jewish American histories. Today I split my time between where I live on the Seacoast region of New Hampshire and where my spouse lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Los Angeles, Cambridge, and New Hampshire are colonial names for the homelands of the Tongva, Pennacook, Wabanaki Confederacy, Pentucket, Abenaki, and Massachuseuk Nations. These locations and the people rooted in them matter in this universe too.
I am also a scientist who as a child terrorized her single mother by persistently questioning everything. I am a born empiricist, someone who by nature (ask my mother!) takes seriously that information should be collected and then provided as a mechanism for explaining why the world is organized in the ways that it is. This commitment to rationalizing order often seemed to center on my household chores, but I also wanted to know why mathematics so accurately described the universe and how deep that relationship goes. That question, along with the need to have some kind of career because I knew that bills had to be paid somehow, is why I decided at age 10 to become a theoretical physicist. It is also a question that remains the subtext of my work as a theoretical physicist nearly 30 years later.
But I also wanted to know why my third-grade teacher had left all the Black children with two Black parents off the playbill for our class’s forthcoming modernist production of Strega Nona (produced and directed by actress Conchata Ferrell z”l), where I was to play one of Macbeth’s three witches. Mrs. M threw me out of class for asking the question, but at the time I didn’t think of it as a challenge to her authority. I simply wanted to know if she was a racist. I was curious. I had watched my mom’s grassroots organizing combating racism and sexism, I had experienced racism by her side trying to get motel rooms on road trips, and I just wanted to know if I had discovered an instance of it on my own.
When I was 10, I thought that I could keep my curiosity about the mathematics of the universe and the existence and function of racism separate. But it was not to be. A hard lesson I learned as I emerged from my mother’s home into rarified academic settings (first stop: Harvard College) was that learning about the mathematics of the universe could never be an escape from the earthly phenomena of racism and sexism (and now that humanity is moving deeper into our solar system, racism and sexism are no longer earthbound). As I progressed through college, graduate school, and teaching, I learned quickly and painfully that physics and math classrooms are not only scenes of cosmology—the study of the origins and inner workings of the physical universe—but also scenes of society, complete with all of the problems that follow society wherever it goes. There is no escape.
In physics, matter comes in different phases. For example, water and ice are different phases of the same chemical—liquid and solid. A phase transition occurs when matter changes from one phase to another. We see such a phase transition occurring when water evaporates: the liquid becomes gas. When it freezes, the transition is from liquid to solid. Phase transitions also occur in environments that feel far less mundane to us, for example, when a massive star goes supernova and converts from plasma to a neutron star that is some combination of superfluids and solids quite unlike those we find on Earth. Similarly, I had to undergo incredible intellectual phase transitions to conceive of what it meant to go from being a Black girl who loved but did not understand particle physics to a queer agender Black woman who loves—and is one of the chosen few to understand how much we don’t understand—particle physics. My new understanding that society would follow me into the world of physics was also something of a phase transition for me.
This book will reflect these different phases in order to provide a holistic picture of the ways of knowing that we call particle physics and cosmology. I used to think physics was just physics, separate from people. I thought we could talk about particles without talking about people. I was wrong. At different points I came to understand physics as something that involved people, and that particular understanding has gone through different phases of its own. Studying the physical world requires confronting the social world. I know personally that social barriers impact the practice of science, its results, and the people who comprise the community we call “science.” In this book, I will reflect to readers both my love for science and the difficulties people like me face in holding on to that love. For this reason, what follows is broken into four phases: Just Physics, Physics and the Chosen Few, The Trouble With Physicists, and All Our Galactic Relations.
This book is also part of a long tradition of scientists taking a moment to share with the wider world how they see science. Historically, scientists have aimed to give readers a sense of what communications researcher Alan G. Gross calls “the scientific sublime”—a feeling of awe at the universe and our place within it. This was a hallmark of Carl Sagan’s science communication style, and I think it is why his documentary and book Cosmos captured the world’s imagination and sustained me through difficult moments during college. Almost always, the scientists who have had the opportunity to share their views on science have been white men. Necessarily, as a Black agender woman, I see science differently than my science communication ancestors have because contrary to the usual lore, who you are matters in science. When you’re looking at the world from the margins, a persistent feeling of “the sublime” can feel out of reach as you struggle against mundane and pervasive forces of oppression. It may, therefore, be tempting to cast this book as radically outside the popular science genre because I go beyond the sublime to acknowledge the big role that social phenomena play in science. Some will point to my own life as the central narrative of this text, but while you will learn some things about me along the way (and other scientists too), I am not the point. Much more interesting is the question of how we get free.
What does freedom look like? When I put this question to artist Shanequa Gay, she told me, “Freedom looks like choice making without having to consider so many others when I make those choices.” I hear in Shanequa’s response a deep cry for space to self-actualize, to not always be stuck in survival mode. A sketch of Shanequa’s painting, We Were Always Scientists, appears at the beginning of this book; I commissioned that painting partly because I was trying to figure out my own answer to this question. I asked Shanequa to envision unnamed Black women scientists under slavery. I wanted to challenge the idea that “scientific thought” has been the exclusive purview of Euro-Americans and those of us who have been trained in their knowledge systems. I also wanted something to remind myself that I belonged in my physics department office, and to remind myself that even in the worst conditions, Black women have looked up at the night sky and wondered.
Those women whose names I do not know, who may or may not be part of my bloodline, are as much my intellectual ancestors as Isaac Newton is. In fact, it is through the lessons those women passed on that I have learned to manage living with the Isaac Newtons of the world: those who are good at physics, but who are not good to people. These ancestors also serve as a reminder that the universe is more than our attempts to manipulate it. I don’t have to end up like Newton, who served as warden of The Royal Mint in the late 1600s and was said to enjoy his ability to burn at the stake, hang, and torture coin counterfeiters. I don’t have to end up like J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant and tragic theoretical physicist who oversaw the creation of the first nuclear weapons and spent the rest of his life trying to undo the damage. I believe we can keep what feels wondrous about the search for a mathematical description of the universe while disconnecting this work from its historical place in the hands of violently colonial nation-states. With this book, I hope to map out for myself and for others an understanding that creating room for Black children to freely love particle physics and cosmology means radically changing society and the role of physicists within it. In the end, I have two big dreams for Black children and others, besides clean water, good food, access to health care, and a world without mass incarceration:
1. To know and experience Blackness as beauty and power
2. To know and experience curiosity about the night sky, to know it belonged to their ancestors
That, too, is freedom.
Blessed are You, Universe, who brings in the evening with a word, in wisdom opening the gates and with understanding changing the times and seasons, ordering the stars along their paths in the sky. Creator of day and night, rolling back light from the dark and dark from the light, You make the day slowly fade and bring in the night, dividing between day and night, how great is Your Name. Living Universe, may we always feel your Presence in our lives. Blessed are You, Adonai, who brings in the evening.
In which the universe is, for a time, human-free.
I ♥ QUARKS
THE STORY GOES LIKE THIS. ME: BLACK CHILD ON A SCHOOL bus that is slowly crawling along the 10 Freeway East, windows down, exhaust filling her nose and lungs, causing headaches that stop only years later when her dreams of particle physics carry her far away from the Los Angeles smog. I am reading and then taking breaks from reading to tell whoever is left on the bus—just a handful of children because between my school’s grades six through twelve, only about four of us live this far away—about these things called quarks. I don’t know what a quark is or where the name comes from. I don’t particularly care about the name either. But I know that the world is made out of quarks. I know that my brain is a quark and electron collection.
These particles are not just a Black child dreaming. The Standard Model of particle physics is also all the things that a Black child is made out of. It is all of the things I am made out of as a scientist who has reached adulthood, still fascinated with what she still doesn’t understand. The journey to know quarks in a more technical sense than A Brief History of Time could provide had an almost dizzying number of twists and turns because the math that describes them is some of the most complex in all of particle physics. There were many pieces I had to understand first. And instead of being put off by my descent into the world of particles, my attraction to them deepened with each step.
During my intellectual adventure, I learned that I particularly enjoy a neatly ordered tale of an organized universe that can come off like a delicately constructed sum of its parts. This Standard Model is the framework that we use to describe and make predictions about elementary particles, the fundamental building blocks of matter, and three of the four known forces of the universe—electromagnetism, the weak force, and the strong force. Gravity, the one force we’ve been unable to fit into the Standard Model, has taught us that forces are felt—completely surrounding us—but never seen. This is in part why gravity doesn’t fit in, because it is embedded in spacetime, which literally completely surrounds us. By contrast, the other fundamental forces are in fact mediated—communicated—by a special class of particles called vector bosons.
Before we get to what I mean by “vector bosons,” let me add that they are only one of the many strange new things that come up in particle physics. Every realm of intellectual work has its own vocabulary, and I may be biased, but I guarantee you that few if any are as strange, fantastical, and apparently true as in the world of particle physics. For example, there’s spontaneous symmetry breaking, a phenomenon where the equation that governs a particle’s behavior obeys certain rules, but then when you actually use the equation to calculate the particle’s least energetic behavior, the particle doesn’t appear to obey those rules. What? Particle physics is full of mathematical stuff like this that seems completely unreal, and yet, all of our experimental data matches these strange mathematical ideas. Though I work at the intersection of astrophysics and particle physics, it is particle physics that continues to teach me over and over again that the universe is always more bizarre, more wonderfully queer than we think.
Particle physics, for me, isn’t just about organizing information, although I admit that I get a certain pleasure from that. It’s also about the basic premise of what all physicists do. Whether we are studying particles or new ways to make powder stick to people’s faces (yes, that’s a job you can have!), we study systems as they change in time and look for patterns or make predictions about patterns in their behavior. We used to think that absolute predictions could be made if we had sufficient information. One of the toughest lessons of the twentieth century was that this is not the case—our world is at base quantum physical in nature.
For our purposes here, quantum physics (which physicists call “quantum mechanics”) means that the fundamental properties of particles are such that we must now understand that each event in the universe is but one probability among others. Some events are more likely, but everything is possible. The probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics is particularly noticeable in the land of particle physics, where the fundamental objects are very small and more evidently governed by quantum rules. We can never really predict exactly what particles will do, but we can calculate the likelihood that something will happen and the timescale over which we expect it to occur. The quantum world of particles requires a kind of stretching of our scientific imagination into our scientific reality: things that do not seem intuitive are now what is real. The existence of any given object in our everyday life seems definitive, guaranteed. The table my feet are resting on is there—except there’s an incredibly small, almost zero probability that in a moment it won’t be.
That’s not all of the strangeness of particle physics. Here is some more: all particles fall into one of two quantum mechanical categories, one of which is the boson (named after Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose). The other is a fermion (named after Italian American physicist Enrico Fermi). The difference between bosons and fermions comes down to a rule called the Pauli exclusion principle (named for Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli) and a quantum mechanical property that each particle has, which we call spin. The value of quantum spins are measured in multiples of a number we call Planck’s constant. Bosons have the property that their quantum spins always occur in whole numbers (zero, one, two, etc.). The famed photon, the particle that mediates electromagnetic interactions and that we experience as light is a vector boson, a particle with a spin of one. Fermions, which include my beloved quarks, have the property that their spins always occur in multiples of a half (1/2, 3/2, etc.). The electron has a spin of a half and so do all of the quarks.
Importantly, this spin property is not like a spinning ball, but it gets its name because it is part of the quantum mechanical counterpart to our everyday notion of rotation. This quantum spin is additive: any object that contains particles has a spin, because the individual spins of those particles will combine in interesting ways dictated by the rules of quantum mechanics. Therefore atoms, which are made out of electrons and quarks, also have a quantum spin. This quantum spin has significant consequences for the structure of matter. This is a result of the fact that bosons and fermions obey different rules, which tell us how the particles can be distributed into different quantum energy levels. I tend to think of bosons as pep squad particles: they are happy to all share the same quantum energy state together. Fermions? Not so much. They’re grubby and don’t share well. More technically, they have to obey the Pauli exclusion principle, which says that no two fermions can share the same quantum state in the same quantum system at any given time. Students who take high school chemistry often struggle with figuring out orbitals, where electrons can only go into a few slots before the slots are full and new electrons have to move to higher orbitals. This is Fermi statistics and the Pauli exclusion principle in action.
As complicated as this sounds, the idea of spin is often taught to sophomore and junior physics majors in college. We are partly able to do this because we don’t spend any time trying to make sense of why particles come in these two distinct formats. It is instead a definition that students are encouraged to accept as a fundamental axiom, and if they’d like to think deeply about that, there’s maybe a philosophy class they can take in another department. The bizarre probabilistic math of quantum mechanics makes predictions that match our experiments, and for many physicists, that’s enough since developing models that match data and testing theories using data are the two primary activities of physicists. Many of us accept quantum physics without ever trying to make sense of it, and we’re not particularly encouraged to either. In other words, you’re doing no worse than a future professional physicist if you just accept what I’m saying here without any substantive understanding of why things are this way. Of course, the question of “why” constantly lurks in the background, but research on what is called “foundations of quantum mechanics” has largely been relegated to the margins of physics research, in part because it’s difficult and in part because it hasn’t been profitable. There’s still a lot that we don’t know.
We do know that everything we have ever seen in the universe is made out of two categories of fermions: quarks, which like to combine to form other particles, and leptons, which like Bartleby the Scrivener, would prefer not to. Everything we have ever seen in the universe that is made out of quarks and leptons has a mass because of the Higgs, a scalar boson (which has a spin of zero). Every force that we know of in the universe, except gravity, is mediated by vector bosons, like the gluons that are responsible for the way quarks glue together into other particles. Some physicists think gravity may be mediated through spacetime by a spin 2 boson called a graviton, but for now that is a hypothetical idea that goes beyond the Standard Model of particle physics.
The Standard Model itself is largely understood to be experimentally complete as of 2012. Before then, we had detected elementary particles in three categories: quarks, leptons, and vector bosons. Many of these detections happened in particle colliders—literally experimental setups where particles are shot at each other and then the equipment picks up the signatures of the pieces of the smashed-up particles. But we still didn’t know for sure how these particles got their mass. In 2012, scientists announced that this technique had yielded definitive experimental evidence for the hypothesized Higgs boson. The discovery of the Higgs (named for British physicist Peter Higgs), which gives most
- “A resonant paean to the beauties of the cosmos and a persuasive appeal for solutions to injustices in science.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- “In this powerful and compelling book, Prescod-Weinstein lays it out patently: Racist and sexist policies and behaviors are rampant across all scientific disciplines…From the hunt for dark matter (her area of expertise) to the often fraught relationship among Indigenous peoples, their lands, and high-tech experiments, Prescod-Weinstein’s deep dives into complex subjects are accessible and exhilarating... A timely, necessary, stellar book—a game-changer.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
- “Particle physicist Prescod-Weinstein presents a provocative and richly detailed critique of the largely white and male scientific community and her place in it as a Black queer woman…A fascinating and disquieting look at a discipline that often holds itself above interrogation.”—Booklist (starred review)
- “In this eye-opening book Prescod-Weinstein describes her work studying particle physics, dark matter and cosmology, as well as how that work is affected by being a ‘queer agender Black woman’ in physics. She has faced abuse most of her colleagues have not—told by advisers she was not smart enough to be a physicist and subjected to racism and even physical assault from fellow researchers. Somehow her awe at the cosmos remained intact, and it illuminates this fascinating tour of the universe, from cosmic inflation to the physics of melanin.”—Scientific American
- “Part introduction to quantum mechanics and cosmology, part memoir, and part sociological study, this work challenges readers to question the nature of how science is done in contemporary society, as well as what it means when everyone has a seat at the cosmological table. For general science readers, gender and feminist studies students, and those concerned about the role feminist and racial politics plays in STEM professions.”—Library Journal
- “Celebrated scientist Dr. Prescod-Weinstein uncovers how systematic racism limits humanity’s potential. Using the universe as her classroom, she highlights the value of equality in laboratories and society at large.”—Essence
- “[A] wide-ranging book that is both a scientific explainer and an argument that unjust power structures shape the world of physics.”—Vox
- “Physics and astronomy are often seen as abstract and universal, but this wide-ranging corrective, by a particle cosmologist, emphasizes the fact that they are also ‘a human, social enterprise,’ shaped by the same racism and sexism that plague society as a whole.”—The New Yorker
- "The Disordered Cosmos, more than most other science books, is an urgently needed call for justice. It is brave, passionate and angry, and rightly so. If the book and documentary A Brief History of Time were influential in making a wider public accept and celebrate disabled scientists, Prescod-Weinstein’s book will hopefully do the same for people of colour and other marginalized groups.”—Nature Astronomy
- "In this one-of-a-kind book, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein simultaneously discusses her love of physics while placing that love in tension with science as a discipline that is deeply marred by racism…the author shows us that the field of science can do amazing things, but also, if placed in the wrong hands, can be deeply damaging to people of color.”—Book Riot
- “Her book is a tour of particles like quarks and leptons, as well as the axions that Prescod-Weinstein specializes in, but it also explores the various structural oppressions that affect who gets to study and discover them -- and even who gets to name those discoveries.”—CNN
- “We live in a golden age of science books that artfully escape their usual bounds — merging astrophysics with poetry, biology with philosophy — and still The Disordered Cosmos stands apart for its interweaving of history and its righteous argument that we can do better.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
- "There are very few books that will ignite the finest poets, memoirists, scientists, novelists, and folks who love reading. The Disordered Cosmos does all that, but what's most otherworldly is that it's a book that families in this world must read. It will change how we talk, think, communicate, and, most of all, imagine."—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir
- “What a cosmic testimony this is! A science-sermon to the Black, the queer, the trans, the disabled and all others who seek to be as free as the cosmos allows. This book proves that there is plenty of room in the universe for those who, on Earth, are forced to fold themselves up. Rejoice! For we have the space.”—Robert Jones, Jr., author of The Prophets
“Breathtakingly expansive and intimate…. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is a griot of the universe, and her powerful storytelling will reignite your commitment to creating a world in which we all have the spacetime to think and dream.”
—Ruha Benjamin, author of Race After Technology
“This kind of science book is all too rare, and all too necessary.”
—Clifford Johnson, author of The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe
“A groundbreaking work of science and art—a clarion call to think rigorously, to question fearlessly, to challenge what we've long been told and reimagine what could exist in our search to better understand ourselves and our universe.”
—Nicole Chung, author of All You Can Ever Know
“Eye-opening, provocative, and ultimately inspiring: if we can grasp the enormity of the cosmos, surely we can look within ourselves and try to be better to each other.”
—Sean Carroll, author of Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime
“Both scientist and humanist, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein integrates her personal experience as a Black woman growing up in an America filled with social injustice with her quest to understand the cosmos. For me, she embodies Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
—Gates McFadden, actress and director
“A rethinking of what time, space and matter mean when we understand the systems of oppression and exploitation that structure our realities. We've never more needed a map of the stars to guide us, and Chanda gives us a great big new one in this book.”
—Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman
“This book will change the way you think about the universe, and about the how, why, and whom of academic culture.”
—Katie Mack, author of The End of Everything
- “Afrofuturists seeking a deeper grounding in sciences beyond Earth’s terrain will enjoy this well-crafted book that centers both Black Lives and space theory in a quest to understand the universe.”—Ytasha L. Womack, author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy Culture
“Imagine if someone could make you fall in love not only with the nighttime sky not only as a thing of beauty but as a matter of matter, the stuff of our existence seen and unseen. Imagine a physics professor who could assure you that the world and its wonder belongs to all of us, Black women included. That is what you have in Chanda Prescod-Weinstein's The Disordered Cosmos. Her writing is beautiful and clear, her ideas are expansive, honest and precise. You will feel yourself grow inside this book. Finally, this is the decolonized science we have yearned for, a gift from a rare intellectual who fights for freedom on every page and inside every theory.”
—Imani Perry, author of Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry
- “Prescod-Weinstein delves into the culture of the mainstream scientific community, and how it has influenced the progress of science…with this book she achieves an astonishing blend of scientific depth and an intricate understanding of the interplay between science and society.”—Physics World
- “Particle cosmologist Prescod-Weinstein’s debut is a dazzling introduction to particle physics. In wonder-filled prose, she describes quantum mechanics, string theory, and gravity. She also takes a trenchant stand against the inequalities that run rampant in the field, making a moving plea that the cosmos be accessible to all.”—Publishers Weekly, Best Books of 2021 - Nonfiction
- “The Disordered Cosmos is a fierce reminder that science does not exist in a vacuum; rather, it is a practice firmly rooted in humanity—and access to the night sky is perhaps the most fundamental human right of all. The book is a love letter to the wondrous universe we call home, and an urge to think critically about how we explore its depths.”—Smithsonian Magazine
- “The Disordered Cosmos is the type of book that compels us to shatter our preconceptions about science, scientists, and academia.”—Physics Today
- “The Disordered Cosmos is equal parts critical analysis, personal essay, and popular science…Prescod-Weinstein not only narrates her struggle to become a cosmologist, she advocates for all peoples whom physicists have undervalued…Prescod-Weinstein’s most vital work, in the end, is the emancipation of Black and brown children who still cannot see their futures in the stars.”—Undark
- “In her ode to physics, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Ph.D., entices readers to join in her love affair with science. Peppered with a healthy dose of Black feminism and pride, Disordered Cosmos offers a deeper understanding of a fascinating field while also sparking wonder about the night sky.”—Ebony
- On Sale
- Mar 9, 2021
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Bold Type Books