Physicist Michael Dine takes readers on a journey to the edge of reality in new book

‘This Way to the Universe’ explains the outstanding mysteries of the universe and also how remarkably well we understand it on many levels

Michael Dine (photo by C. Lagattuta)

Throughout his career, UCSC physicist Michael Dine has explored challenging questions at the forefront of theoretical research in particle physics and cosmology. In a new book, This Way to the Universe (Penguin Random House, February 2022), Dine draws on decades of personal experience to offer an expert’s guide to the stunning achievements of modern physics as well as the mysteries that still confront scientists as they try to grasp the nature of reality.

His aim was to convey to a broad audience our current understanding of the universe from the smallest scales of subatomic particles to the largest scales of the cosmos.

“We have a remarkably good idea of what the universe looks like over many orders of magnitude, from the very small-scale world of atomic nuclei and smaller to the very large scales,” Dine said. “There are outstanding mysteries that I talk about in the book, but I thought it was important to convey how much we do understand and how sharp our questions are.”

The discussions are grounded in stories, many featuring Dine’s colleagues at UC Santa Cruz, where he is a distinguished professor of physics and is affiliated with the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP). Dine is a leading theoretical physicist known for his contributions in the areas of supersymmetry and string theory, as well as investigations into the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

For over 30 years, Dine has been commuting to campus with a group of colleagues in physics and astronomy who live “over the hill” on the inland side of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

“My car pool has not only educated me about a range of experimental issues but has helped keep me honest, focused on questions that either are driven by experiment or can be addressed by experiment,” he writes. “A de facto requirement of membership in this pool is the ability to explain to each other what we are doing.”

In This Way to the Universe, Dine’s explanations of the mind-bending concepts of modern physics are accessible to anyone interested enough to follow along. He is an engaging and authoritative guide to the leading ideas in physics and cosmology, with an insider’s view of the latest developments.

Leonard Susskind, professor of theoretical physics at Stanford University and the author of several popular books, calls Dine’s book “an extraordinary one of the great masters of modern physics.”

“Unlike other books on the subject, it does not try to sell you on the author’s pet theory,” Susskind says. “In a clear and honest way, it lays out all the most important problems, puzzles, and potential solutions that modern physics faces.”

Dine is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Physical Society (APS). He won the APS Sakurai Prize honoring outstanding achievement in particle physics theory and served as chair of the APS Committee on the Future of Theoretical Particle Physics. He joined the UCSC faculty in 1990 and received the Outstanding Faculty Award of the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences in 2011.