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The inside story of a quest to unlock one of cosmology’s biggest mysteries, derailed by the lure of the Nobel Prize.
What would it have been like to be an eyewitness to the Big Bang? In 2014, astronomers wielding BICEP2, the most powerful cosmology telescope ever made, revealed that they’d glimpsed the spark that ignited the Big Bang. Millions around the world tuned in to the announcement broadcast live from Harvard University, immediately igniting rumours of an imminent Nobel Prize. But had these cosmologists truly read the cosmic prologue or, swept up in Nobel dreams, had they been deceived by a galactic mirage?
In Losing the Nobel Prize, cosmologist and inventor of the BICEP (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) experiment Brian Keating tells the inside story of BICEP2’s mesmerising discovery and the scientific drama that ensued. In an adventure story that spans the globe from Rhode Island to the South Pole, from California to Chile, Keating takes us on a personal journey of revelation and discovery, bringing to vivid life the highly competitive, take-no-prisoners, publish-or-perish world of modern science. Along the way, he provocatively argues that the Nobel Prize, instead of advancing scientific progress, may actually hamper it, encouraging speed and greed while punishing collaboration and bold innovation. In a thoughtful reappraisal of the wishes of Alfred Nobel, Keating offers practical solutions for reforming the prize, providing a vision of a scientific future in which cosmologists may, finally, be able to see all the way back to the very beginning.
“[Keating] is a deft writer, interweaving the science with personal musings.” — Nature
“A compelling personal memoir, a fascinating history of cosmology, and an interesting firsthand account of a dramatic scientific adventure.” — Physics Today
“Brian Keating's compulsively readable book shows us the human side of science: the passion, the competition, the jealousies, the mistakes, the triumphs, the heartbreaks. A first-hand account of how science happens at the very highest levels.” — Sean Carroll, author of The Big Picture
“By losing the Nobel Prize, Keating and BICEP2 has led us to an even greater victory: the recognition that there are more important things in this Universe, like scientific truths, than the fleeting glory of an earthly award.” — Forbes
“A deeply personal journey that illuminates both the ultimate questions that cosmologists seek to answer, and the problems that we, as human beings, generate in the pursuit of those answers... Whether you're familiar with these ideas behind the evolution of our universe or have never heard the word 'inflation' before, Keating's narrative ensures you'll have the background you need to understand why this result was so sought-after.” — Astronomy.com