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How many dimensions are there? Is our universe flat or curved? How symmetric are the smallest particles we know? In his new popular science book 'Van getal naar heelal' (Dutch for 'From numbers to the universe') UvA physicist Marcel Vonk decribes how modern mathematics helps physics forward - and the other way around.

The deepest questions in physics often have a mathematical answer: a number, a shape or a structure. Mathematics is nature's language. A language that people are sometimes scared of - but that fear is not justified. Mathematics shows the beauty of nature, sometimes better than words alone can do.

Mathematics and physics

The role that mathematics plays in physics starts with simple counting. However, physicists are helped in many other ways by mathematics. We need geometry to understand black holes, and in quantum physics one uses 'groups' and 'vector spaces' - abstract concepts that turn out to have a concrete physical meaning, and that help us to better understand nature. In the end, the influence turns out to work both ways: nowadays unexpected help from physics allows mathematicians to prove conjectures that so far remained unproven.

Van getal naar heelal

In Van getal naar heelal (in Dutch) theoretical physicist Marcel Vonk shows how mathematical concepts appear in surprising ways in physics - and how those concepts have helped us understand nature. The book is written in an understandable, narrative style, where of course it is helpful if the reader remembers a few mathematical concepts from high school, but for which a higher mathematics background is certainly not necessary.

Marcel Vonk is a mathematical physics researcher at the University of Amsterdam. He writes popular scientific articles, gives lectures, and previously wrote the Dutch popular science books SnaartheorieZwarte gaten and De race tegen de schildpad.

Van getal naar heelal, Marcel Vonk. Spectrum 2023, 272 pages, €22.99 (e-book €12.99), ISBN 9789000384945.