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The Alternate Who?

by John G. Cramer

Alternate View Column AV-00
Keywords: Cramer, biography, purpose
Published in the July-1984 issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact Magazine;
This column was written and submitted 12/16/83 and is copyrighted © 1983, John G. Cramer. All rights reserved.
No part may be reproduced in any form without the explicit permission of the author.

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I have agreed to try to fill the large engineer's boots left behind by Jerry Pournelle, the former occupant of this slot. And those of you who have enjoyed (as I have) Jerry's informed over- and under-views of the space program and his strong and cogent political forays should prepare yourselves for a change. Because I will be writing from a different perspective.

I'm a Professor of Physics at the University of Washington in Seattle. I teach physics, I do basic research, and I'm the Director of the UW Nuclear Physics Laboratory. At my laboratory just now we are beginning a very exciting project. We are using a brand new technology, superconducting "quarter-wave" RF cavities, to build a $9 million particle accelerator paid for by the U.S. Department of Energy and by my university. I am deeply involved in this project, and I also have ongoing research projects in a number of areas spanning astrophysics and cosmology, nuclear reaction studies, computer system design and software, accelerator technology, and the foundations of quantum mechanics.

I've published around 100 professional papers in journals like Physical Review, Nuclear Physics, Nuclear Instruments and Methods, Computer Physics Communications, and Foundations of Physics. But in the past few years I have been learning a new kind of writing, the craft of "science writing", or trying to explain scientific ideas to a general readership. I like physics very much, and I am going to try to communicate the excitement, the challenge, and the intellectual stimulation of it to you. I have found that the readers of Analog are an interested and receptive audience.

I started science-fact writing when Ben Bova asked me to try writing an article for Analog based on a paper that I had published in Physical Review Letters. It described a way of telling whether a supernova in a distant galaxy was made of matter or of antimatter. The science fact article, "Antimatter in the Universe", (Analog, August, 1979) was my first science fact article. I found that I enjoyed this kind of writing, and since then I have published over twenty more science fact articles in various magazines and clubzines.

My contributons to "The Alternate View" will explore various aspects of physics, astronomy, cosmology, and technology from the viewpoint of the science fiction enthusiast. We will look at the correspondence between science fiction themes and real science, as we presently understand it. We will look at the remote past and the far future, the macrocosm and the microcosm. We will see what contemporary science has to say about starship drives, FTL travel and FTL communication, about other dimensions, time travel, and alternate universes. I will also try to keep you informed of recent developments and discoveries in science (although the 6-month time delay between writing and publication may be a problem with that activity).

In the established tradition of this column, I will also occasionally use it for a soapbox. The science policies of our government and the operation of the system which produces these policies are usually interesting, often frustrating, and occasionally worth some deeper scrutiny. I have had much experience and even some success in functioning within that system, and I plan to do an occasional column on the politics of science. But that is for later. I will begin my career as a columnist with a look at one of the most remarkable predictions of contemporary physics: the decay of the proton.


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