2011-12: Physics for Future Presidents

About Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines, by Richard A. Muller

The Author


Richard A. Muller is a physicist at the University of California-Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  The book Physics for Future Presidents is based on a course he developed and teaches for non-science majors.

Muller completed his undergraduate degree at Columbia University in New York and his Ph.D. from Berkeley under Luis Alvarez, a Nobel laureate.  He has received numerous awards and held several notable positions. The include service as: Chairperson of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project; member of the JASON Defense Advisory Group, which performs consulting work for the United States Department of Defense; columnist for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Technology Review; president and chief scientist of Muller & Associates, an international energy consulting group; MacArthur Foundation Fellow; and, recipient of Alan T. Waterman Award from the National Science Foundation.

The Book

Physics for Future Presidents: the Science behind the Headlines is based on author Richard A. Muller’s acclaimed physics for non-science majors course at the University of California-Berkeley.  The book is addressed to future global leaders, and breaks down topics that are frequently highlighted in the media to help readers understand their importance and implications in the world.The author avoids using complex mathematics so that the text is understandable to individuals from all academic backgrounds.  In his introduction Muller states that without understanding the physics behind these issues, the reader is not ready to be a world leader.

“The moment when you are told that a terrorist has left a dirty bomb hidden in midtown Manhattan is not a good time to telephone your local science advisor to find out how bad the situation really is,” he writes.

The book is divided into five broad sections: terrorism, energy, “nukes,” space, and global warming.  Each section is further divided into chapters which address specific issues in each area and explain the science behind each topic, detailing what it is and why it is important.  At the end of each chapter is a summary of the main points that is framed as a message to future presidents of the United States.

The book has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics with media outlets such as the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Popular Science, Wired Magazine, the National Review, and Publishers Weekly.  It is also the winner of the 2009 Northern California Book award for General Nonfiction and is a San Francisco Chronicle Best Seller.

Common Reading Event Series

August 2011

Common Reading Tuesdays (CRT) Kick-Off: An Inconvenient Truth film screening

Don Wall, director of WSU Nuclear Radiation Center, on “The Role of Nuclear Power as a Long-Term Energy Source” at 7 p.m., Todd 116 (signups available for September reactor tours)

September 2011

WSU Observatory open to visitors

Tours of the WSU Nuclear Reactor

Tom Dickinson (Physics) on “The Enormous Little World of Nanotechnology”

2011-12 Common Reading Invited Lecture, with author Richard A. Muller

October 2011

WSU Observatory open to visitors

WSU Instructional Librarians on “The Use and Misuse of Information” at 7 p.m.

Dirk Schulze-Makuch (School of Earth and Environmental Sciences) on “Space Travel to Mars and the Prospect of Life on Other Planets”

Mark O’English (MASC, WSU Libraries) on Atomic Comics

November 2011

Michael Wolcott (Civil and Environmental Engineering, director of the Institute for Sustainable Design) on the topic of sustainable design

2011 Sustainability Fair

Screening of “Carbon Nation” at 7 p.m. in Beasley Coliseum hosted by Center for Environmental Research, Education, and Outreach (CEREO).

Hayley Chouinard (Economics) on “The Role of Economics in Influencing Public Policy and Consumer Decision Making Regarding Energy”

Carol Anelli (Entomology) on “Physics for Bugs: Why Insects Can Scale Walls and Do Other Amazing Things”

January 2012

24  Shelley Pressley (Civil and Environmental Engineering) on “Climate Change Research by Undergraduates: How You Can Do Research that Matters in Your Own Field of Study” at 7 p.m. in Smith CUE 203

February 2012

07  William Kabasenche (Philosophy) on “Ethics for Scientists and Science-Savvy Citizens” at 7 p.m. in Smith CUE 203 (This lecture was re-scheduled from fall 2011.)

21  Grant Norton (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) on “What’s Next for Clean Tech: Searching the Periodic Table for Ideas” at 7 p.m. in Smith CUE 203

28  Paul Brians (Emeritus Professor of English) on “Radioactive Thinking: Nuclear Imagery and American Culture” at 7 p.m. in Smith CUE 203.  This lecture is co-sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts, the WSU Libraries, the Foley Institute, the Department of English, and WSU’s Visual, Performing, and Literary Arts Committee (VPLAC).  Reception following.

March 2012

27  Robert  Rosenman (Economics) on the “Statistical Hypothesis Inference Testing: What Are We Learning for Policy Making,” at 7 p.m. in Smith CUE 203.

April 2012

03  E. Kirsten Peters (CAHNRS and syndicated “Rock Doc”) on “Falling Head-long Into Science Writing,” at 7 p.m. in Todd 216

10  Thomas Preston (Political Science) on “The Bio-Terror Threat for Future Presidents, at 7 p.m. in Todd 216

12 (NOTE: THIS IS A THURSDAY PRESENTATION)  Jerry Goodstein (Business, WSU Vancouver) on “The Global Challenge of E-waste: A Stakeholder Perspective,” at 7 p.m. in Todd 276

18 (NOTE: THIS IS A WEDNESDAY PRESENTATION)  Rich McKinney (’73 Business Administration and Air Force ROTC, currently Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs) on “How Does the Air Force Use Space?” at 7 pm, Todd 116