The Icarus Question: Essays on Science, Technology, and the Search for Home in a changing world (Summer 2023)

Gene Tracy and Sally Davies (editor)

Daedalus, the great inventor of ancient myth, fashioned wings so that he and his son Icarus could escape imprisonment. But it all went awry when Icarus ignored his father’s warnings and flew too close to the Sun. We know how that story ends—or do we? In The Icarus Question, physicist Gene Tracy offers reasons to hope that humanity’s urge to transcend our limitations need not lead to inevitable disaster. Weaving together memoir, history of science, mythology, astronomy, psychology and literary criticism, these essays are a point of departure for those curious to understand how science, technology and the culture at large can coevolve. From the necessity for empathy and wonder to act as correctives to climate denialism, to how science fiction can school us in the vulnerabilities that make us human, Tracy’s probing and humane analysis calls on each of us not just to strive to understand the world, but to learn to love it better too. Only then will our children have a chance at being able to make a home on that far shore we call ‘the future’.

All essays are either new, or completely revised and updated.

Gene Tracy is Chancellor Professor of Physics Emeritus at William & Mary in Virginia, where he was the founding director of the Center for Liberal Arts. His essays have appeared at Aeon, Lapham’s Quarterly and American Scientist.

Sally Davies (editor) is a writer and editor whose interests include science, philosophy, feminism and the arts. She is Senior Editor at Aeon and was formerly digital editor of FT Weekend as well as the technology and innovation correspondent for the Financial Times.

Ray Tracing and Beyond: Phase Space Methods in Plasma Wave Theory

  • Eugene R Tracy, William & Mary
  • Alain Brizard, of Saint Michael’s College in Burlington, VT.
  • Allan Kaufman, UC Berkeley.
  • Steve Richardson, Senior Research Scientist, Zap Energy.

Ray Tracing and Beyond is an encyclopedic and scholarly work on the linear theory of dispersive vector waves, summarizing the general theory developed over the careers of four leading practitioners and teachers in theoretical plasma physics. It seems destined to become a ‘must-read’ classic for graduate students and researchers, not only specialists in plasma physics (a field which involves a myriad of wave problems in nonuniform media) but also the many other physicists and applied mathematicians working on problems involving waves.” — Robert L. Dewar, Australian National University

This complete introduction to the use of modern ray-tracing techniques in plasma physics describes the powerful mathematical methods generally applicable to vector wave equations in nonuniform media, and clearly demonstrates the application of these methods to simplify and solve important problems in plasma wave theory.

Key analytical concepts are carefully introduced as needed, encouraging the development of a visual intuition for the underlying methodology, with more advanced mathematical concept succinctly explained in appendices, and supporting MATLAB code available online. Covering variational principles, covariant formulations, caustics, tunneling, mode conversion, weak dissipation, wave emission from coherent sources, incoherent wave fields, and collective wave absorption and emission, all within an accessible framework using standard plasma physics notation, this is an invaluable resource for graduate students and researchers in plasma physics.

Available from Cambridge University Press here.