What Is the Universe Made of? (Matter, Energy, and Interactions)

  • Barry B. Luokkala
Part of the Science and Fiction book series (SCIFICT)


Having considered the nature of space and time, we now turn our attention to the stuff of the universe: what do we know about the things—both material and immaterial—which inhabit space and time? The state of our current understanding of matter and energy is both highly detailed and very incomplete. We still have a lot to learn. As already hinted in Chap.  2, Einstein’s theory of general relativity is very successful at describing physics on the large scale (planetary, stellar, galactic, and so forth) but is completely incompatible with quantum mechanics—an equally successful model of physics, but at the subatomic scale. The ongoing quest to resolve this incompatibility is one of the most interesting and open fields of physics research. In this chapter, we will explore various properties of materials, including some of the latest developments in materials science. But we will begin with a look at the fundamental building blocks of matter and one of the most intriguing questions of modern physics: What is the universe made of?


The Standard Model of Particle Physics

  1. 1.
    Star Trek: The Next Generation – “Starship Mine” (Cliff Boyle, Paramount 1993). Quarks, hadrons, baryons [DVD season 6, disc 5, opening scene]Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Rossi, B.: Cosmic Rays, p. 107. McGraw-Hill, New York (1964)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Manohar, A.V., Sachrajda, C.T., Barnett, R.M.: Quark masses.
  4. 4.
    Abbot, B.P., et al.: Observation of gravitational waves from a binary black hole merger. Phys. Rev. Lett. 116, 061102 (2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Discovery of the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider.

Beyond the Standard Model

  1. 6.
    Dark Matter Survey (DES).

The Atomic Nucleus

  1. 7.
    Forbidden Planet (Fred McLeod Wilcox, MGM 1956). Special isotope of lead (217) as a shield against radiation, but with less mass than “common lead” [DVD scene 8]Google Scholar


  1. 8.
    Mission to Mars (Brian De Palma, Touchstone Pictures 2000). Air leaks out through a small hole in a punctured space ship [DVD scene 13]Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    “How To Freeze Boiling Water” (DrBarryLuke, YouTube 2010).
  3. 10.
    Facts and Figures for the International Space Station.
  4. 11.
    Mars – “Crossroads” (Teleplay by Andre Bormanis and Paul Solet, National Geographic 20160). Explosive decompression of a Martian habitat module [season 1, episode 6]Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, Warner Brothers 2013). An astronaut inside as Soyuz space capsule is not wearing her helmet, when the hatch is suddenly opened from the outside [DVD scene 7]Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    Passengers (Morten Tyldum, Columbia Pictures 2016). Water in a swimming pool on a space ship when artificial gravity fails [DVD scene 12]Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Playing ping pong with a drop of water on the International Space Station.
  8. 15.
    Wringing out a wet washcloth on the International Space Station.

Solid State Materials

  1. 16.
    Star Trek: The Next Generation—“Gambit, Part I” (Peter Lauritson, Paramount 1993). Microcrystalline damage (or nanoparticles?) [DVD season 7, disc 1, opening scene]Google Scholar

Phase Transitions

  1. 17.
    Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, United Artists 1964). Laser-induced solid-liquid phase transition [DVD scene 18]Google Scholar
  2. 18.
    Nelson, D.F., Collins, R.J., Kaiser, W.: Bell labs and the ruby laser. Physics Today. 16(1), 40–45 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 19.
    Patel, C.K.: Continuous-wave laser action on vibrational-rotational transitions of CO2. Phys. Rev. 136(5A), 1187–1193 (1964)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 20.
    Gresh, L.H., Weinberg, R.: The Science of James Bond, p. 147. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ (2009)Google Scholar
  5. 21.
    Goldeneye (Martin Campbell, United Artists 1995). Laser-induced solid-liquid phase transition + calculation of power [DVD scenes 22 (if time allows) + 23]Google Scholar
  6. 22.
    Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron, Studio Canal 1991). Liquid-solid and solid-liquid phase transitions [DVD scenes 65 and 66]Google Scholar

Transparency and Invisibility

  1. 23.
    Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Leonard Nimoy, Paramount 1986). Transparent polymers, transparent aluminum [DVD scene 10]Google Scholar
  2. 24.
    Gentilman, R.L., Maguire E.A., Dolhert, L.E.: Transparent aluminum oxynitride and method of manufacture. US Patent application, 1984.
  3. 25.
    Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, MGM 2002). Adaptive camouflage [DVD scene 18]Google Scholar
  4. 26.
    Predator (John McTiernan, Twentieth Century Fox 1987). Adaptive camouflage [DVD scene 15]Google Scholar
  5. 27.
    Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 20th Century Fox 1996). B-2 stealth bombers [DVD scene 40 (nuclear attack)]Google Scholar
  6. 28.
    Tomorrow Never Dies (Roger Spottiswoode, MGM 1997). Stealth boat [DVD scene 29]Google Scholar
  7. 29.
    Harry Potter and the Sorcer’s Stone (Chris Columbus, Warner Brothers 2001). Invisibility, metamaterials [DVD scenes 21 and 22]Google Scholar
  8. 30.
    The Invisible Man (James Whale, Universal 1933). Invisibility [DVD scenes 8 and 9]Google Scholar
  9. 31.
    Hollow Man (Paul Verhoeven, Columbia Pictures 2000). Invisibility [DVD scenes 3 and 13]Google Scholar
  10. 32.
    Veselago, V.G.: The electrodynamics of substances with simultaneously negative values of ε and μ. Sov. Phys. Usp. 10, 509 (1968)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 33.
    Smith, D.R., Padilla, W.J., Vier, D.C., Nemat-Nasser, S.C., Schultz, S.: Composite medium with simultaneously negative permeability and permittivity. Phys. Rev. Lett. 84, 4184 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 34.
    Shelby, R.A., Smith, D.R., Schultz, S.: Experimental verification of a negative index of refraction. Science. 292, 77 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 35.
    Harris, S.: Out of mind out of sight. IET Eng. Tech. 8, 12 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 36.
    O’Donnell, B.: Invisibility cloak takes one step closer to revealing itself. Horizon Magazine, 7 Aug 2017.
  15. 37.
    X-Men: Apocalypse (Bryan Singer, 20th Century Fox 2016). Magneto’s ability to manipulate magnetic fields and metal is specific to the “magnetic elements, Iron, Nickel and Cobalt” [DVD scenes 20 and 21]Google Scholar

Energy and Power

  1. 38.
    Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, Columbia Pictures 2004). Use of spider webbing to stop a runaway el-train [DVD scene 43]Google Scholar
  2. 39.
    Kakalios, J.: The Physics of Superheroes, p. 96. Gotham Books, New York (2009)Google Scholar
  3. 40.
    Guo, Y., Chang, Z., Li, B., Zhao, Z.-L., Zhao, H.-P., Feng, X.-Q., Gao, H.: Functional gradient effects on the energy absorption of spider orb webs. Appl. Phys. Lett. 113, 103701 (2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 41.
    True Lies (James Cameron, 20th Century Fox 1994). MRV (or is it MIRV?) nuclear warhead [DVD scene 26]Google Scholar
  5. 42.
    Norris, R.S., Arkin, W.M.: Russian (C.I.S.) strategic nuclear forces end of 1994. Bull. At. Sci. 51(2), 78 (1995). Scholar
  6. 43.
    Angels and Demons (Ron Howard, Columbia Pictures 2009). Antimatter bomb intended to blow up the Vatican [DVD scenes 2 and 5]Google Scholar
  7. 44.
    Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicholas Meyer, Paramount 1982). Matter-antimatter annihilation and gamma radiation [DVD scene 15]Google Scholar
  8. 45.
    Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Nicholas Meyer, Paramount 1991). Photon torpedo, matter-antimatter annihilation [DVD scene 13]Google Scholar
  9. 46.
    Sternbach, R., Okuda, M.: Star Trek the Next Generation Technical Manual, p. 129. Pocket Books, New York (1991)Google Scholar
  10. 47.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhysicsCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations