"Oliver Sacks: My Periodic Table" in The New York Times: Sunday Review
Oliver Sacks: My Periodic Table
By OLIVER SACKS
JULY 24, 2015
I LOOK forward eagerly, almost greedily, to the weekly arrival of journals like Nature and Science, and turn at once to articles on the physical sciences — not, as perhaps I should, to articles on biology and medicine. It was the physical sciences that provided my first enchantment as a boy.
In a recent issue of Nature, there was a thrilling article by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek on a new way of calculating the slightly different masses of neutrons and protons. The new calculation confirms that neutrons are very slightly heavier than protons — the ratio of their masses being 939.56563 to 938.27231 — a trivial difference, one might think, but if it were otherwise the universe as we know it could never have developed. The ability to calculate this, Dr. Wilczek wrote, “encourages us to predict a future in which nuclear physics reaches the level of precision and versatility that atomic physics has already achieved” — a revolution that, alas, I will never see.