Sidney Perkowitz

Sidney Perkowitz is a scientist and science writer. He is the Charles Howard Candler Professor Emeritus of Physics at Emory University,[1] where he has pursued research on the properties of matter and has produced more than 100 scientific papers and books. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[2]

In 1990, Perkowitz's interests turned to presenting science to non-scientists via books and articles, the media, lectures, museum exhibits, and stage works. His popular science books Empire of Light, Universal Foam and Digital People have been translated into six languages and Braille. His book Hollywood Science was published in Fall 2007, and his latest volume, Slow Light: Invisibility, Teleportation, and Other Mysteries of Light, was published in 2011.

Perkowitz has also written for The Sciences,[3] Technology Review,[4] the Los Angeles Times,[5] the Washington Post,[6] Encyclopædia Britannica[7] and others. Media appearances and lectures include CNN, NPR,[8] the BBC,[9] among others. He is the author of the performance-dance piece Albert and Isadora, and the plays Friedmann’s Balloon and Glory Enough, all produced on stage.[10][11] He recently completed his first screenplay.[12] He blogs about science for the National Academy of Sciences.[13]

Sidney Perkowitz was born in Brooklyn, NY, and was educated at Polytechnic University, New York, and the University of Pennsylvania.[14]


Slow Light (2011) is Perkowitz's fifth book of science nonfiction for popular audiences. Slow Light is a popular treatment of recent breakthroughs in the science of light. Even though the quantum mysteries of light are still not fully understood, it can be slowed to a stop and speeded up beyond its Einsteinian speed limit, 186,000 miles/sec; used for quantum telecommunications; teleported; manipulated to create invisibility; and perhaps used to generate hydrogen fusion power.[15]

Hollywood Science (2007) discusses the portrayal of science in more than one hundred films, including science fiction, scientific biographies, and documentaries. Beginning with early films like Voyage to the Moon and Metropolis and concluding with more recent offerings like The Matrix, War of the Worlds, A Beautiful Mind, and An Inconvenient Truth, Perkowitz questions how much faith can be put into Hollywood's depiction of scientists and their work; how accurately these films capture scientific fact and theory; whether cataclysms like the earth's collision with a comet can actually happen; and to what extent these films influence public opinion about science and the future. The book features dozens of film stills and a list of the all-time best and worst science-fiction movies.[16]

Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids (2005) recounts the history of humankind's fascination with creating thinking beings from inanimate objects. Ancient Greek mythology tells of the god Hephaestus who was lame and created winged servants to assist him, while Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein tells of reanimating dead body parts into something that resembles a living human being (these are two examples of many given by Perkowitz). The term “robot” was first used in Karl Capek’s 1921 play R.U.R., but soon it was a standard term used everywhere to describe these fictional machines and their real-life counterparts.[17]

Universal Foam (2001) exposes the full dimensions of foam in human life, from cappuccino to the cosmos. Foam affects the taste of beer, makes shaving easier, insulates take-out coffee cups and NASA space shuttles, controls bleeding in trauma victims, aids in drilling for oil, and captures dust particles from comets. The foam of ocean whitecaps affects Earth's climate, and astronomers believe the billions of galaxies that make up the universe rest on surfaces of immense bubbles within a gargantuan foam.[18]

Empire of Light (1996) discusses the nature of light, how the eye sees, and how human understanding of these phenomena have emerged over the ages, including the role of light in the development of quantum physics. Perkowitz examines the making of electrical light and its integration into commerce, telecommunications, entertainment, medicine, warfare, and every other aspect of daily life. And he presents the role of light in the search for the beginning and the end of the universe, as astronomers with their instruments penetrate ever deeper into the sky. His examinations range from the cave paintings at Lascaux to Mark Rothko’s stark blocks of color in today’s art museums, from Plato’s speculation that the eye sends out rays to Ramon y Cajal’s modern analysis of the visual system, from Tycho Brahe’s elegant measurements of planetary positions to the Hubble telescope’s exquisite sensitivity to light from billions of light years away.[19]


Sidney Perkowitz has written nearly 100 articles, essays, and book chapters on science for popular audiences, including children. In addition to the major media outlets referenced above, publications in which his works have appeared include The Miami Herald,[20] The Manchester Guardian,[21] San Jose Mercury,[22] Houston Chronicle,[23] Atlanta Journal-Constitution,[24] Literal,[25] The Bridge,[26] The Scientist,[27] New Scientist,[28] The Times,[29] Odyssey,[30] and more. His work has also appeared in national journals, including Denver Quarterly,[31] The American Prospect,[32] Art Papers,[33] and Leonardo Journal,[34] and in books such as The Metaphorical Circuit (1983).[35] His topics include popular science, the humor and culture of science, science on stage and screen, science and art, science and mythology, the literature of technology, and contemporary artists who use scientific ideas.

Critical receptionEdit

Sidney Perkowitz's science books for popular audiences have generally been well received by critics in national publications. The Scientific American Book Club reviewer wrote that Slow Light “Shines with insights from the cutting edge of physics.”[36] David Schneider of the American Scientist called Hollywood Science “Great fun. It brings less-well-known films to the reader’s attention—I’m putting Panic in the Streets (1950) on my to-rent list—and delves into the serious issues of how such films serve to educate the public and to inspire the scientific enterprise. I give it two thumbs up!”[37]

Beth Kephart of the Pennsylvania Gazette wrote that Digital People is "A helpful book—a straightforward summarization of the myth and magic, science and struggles, ideals and cautions that constitute the history of artificial beings.”[38] Science Magazine called Universal Foam “Broad-ranging and enlightening.”,[39] and Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews both praised Empire of Light as “A wondrous, mind-expanding tour of the visible world"[40] and as “Smoothly written, comprehensive, and thoroughly enjoyable,"[41] respectively.


  1. ^ "Sidney Perkowitz". Emory University. Archived from the original on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  2. ^ "Roster of Fellows" (PDF). American Association for the Advancement of Science. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 February 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  3. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (May–June 1991). "True Colors: Why Things Look the Way They Do". The Sciences: 22–28. doi:10.1002/j.2326-1951.1991.tb02304.x.
  4. ^ "Brother Can You Spare a Cyclotron". Technology Review.
  5. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (1997-07-20). "Light Reading". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  6. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (March 3, 1991). "The War Science Waged". Washington Post.
  7. ^ "Sidney Perkowitz: Contributions to Encyclopædia Britannica". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  8. ^ "Big Screen Science". Living on Earth. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  9. ^ "Three films that would make Einstein blush". 2010-02-23. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  10. ^ "Isadora Duncan Foundation Website". Archived from the original on 15 March 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
  11. ^ "Doolee Guide to Modern Playwrights and Theater". Retrieved 20 June 2012.
  12. ^ "SCIENTIST SPOTLIGHT: SIDNEY PERKOWITZ". Science and Entertainment Exchange. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  13. ^ "Science and Entertainment Exchange". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 21 June 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
  14. ^ "About Sidney | Sidney Perkowitz - Science | Technology | Culture".
  15. ^ "Slow Light". Imperial College Press. Archived from the original on 2012-08-22.
  16. ^ Hollywood Science. Columbia University Press. December 2007. ISBN 9780231512398. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  17. ^ Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids. Joseph Henry Press/National Academies Press. 2004. doi:10.17226/10738. ISBN 978-0-309-09619-5. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  18. ^ Universal Foam. Open Library. 2001-10-16. OL 7441854M.
  19. ^ Empire of Light. Joseph Henry Press/National Academies Press. 1998. doi:10.17226/6162. ISBN 978-0-309-06556-6. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  20. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (February 26, 1989). "Don't Toss Your Old Communications Systems Yet". Miami Herald.
  21. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (March 3, 1991). "The War Science Waged". The Manchester Guardian.
  22. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (March 3, 1991). "The War Science Waged". San Jose Mercury.
  23. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (March 3, 1991). "The War Science Waged". The Houston Chronicle.
  24. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (May 23, 2004). "Hi, Robot". Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  25. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (Winter). "Resistance is Unnecessary: Accepting the Cyborg in our Midst". Literal. 19: 26–27. Check date values in: |year=, |date=, |year= / |date= mismatch (help)
  26. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (Spring 2005). "Digital People in Manufacturing: Making Them and Using Them". The Bridge. 35 (1): 21–25.
  27. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (November 28, 1988). "When East Meets West". The Scientist: 9.
  28. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (January 23, 1993). "Spelling it Right in Karachi". New Scientist: 46.
  29. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (Autumn 2000). "Fizzicks!". Times (London) Educational Supplement (Science & Technology.
  30. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (September 2001). "Foamy 'Fizzicks'". Odyssey: 6–11.
  31. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (Winter 1996). "Art Upsets, Science Reassures". Denver Quarterly: 120–131.
  32. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (June 1996). "Connecting with E.M. Forster". The American Prospect: 86–89.
  33. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (September–October 1996). "Mildred Thompson: A Review of Her Retrospective Exhibit". Art Papers: 49.
  34. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (April 2010). "The Six Elements: Visions of a Complex Universe". Leonardo. 43 (2): 208–211. doi:10.1162/leon.2010.43.2.208.
  35. ^ Perkowitz, Sidney (2003). Foreword: Between Word and Number. Ithaca, NY: Cornell East Asia Series. pp. ix–xiii.
  36. ^[permanent dead link]
  37. ^
  38. ^ "Gazette | All Things Ornamental: The Arts (July|Aug04)".
  39. ^ Barker, G. C. (2000). "PHYSICS: All Kinds of Bubbles". Science. 289 (5478): 398. doi:10.1126/science.289.5478.398.
  40. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: Empire of Light by Sidney Perkowitz, Author Henry Holt & Company $27.5 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8050-3211-6".
  41. ^ "EMPIRE OF LIGHT by Sidney Perkowitz".