Following my role as the Director of The Culham Plasma Physics International Summer School, I wrote and published two science books: Very Short Introductions to, respectively, Telescopes and Matter (published by Oxford University Press). The aim here was to provide a broad view of these areas to non-specialists, without dumbing anything down too much. I have been very conscious of Stephen Hawking’s advice: namely that every equation that appears in a book, loses half the readership!

The Culham Plasma Physics International Summer School was designed to take students from first degree physics to a research-level understanding of terrestrial and astrophysical plasmas. Plasma (also called the fourth state of matter) is a very hot electrically charged gas, such as the matter that makes up the Sun and stars.

MATTER – A Very Short Introduction

Published by Oxford University Press (28 March 2019)

Matter is the stuff that makes up the universe. We are familiar with the idea of atoms, so small that a million of them can fit across the breadth of a human hair. But there’s much more to it than that, and understanding the nature of matter is an ongoing quest.

Geoff Cottrell explores matter, from its familiar forms as solids, liquids, and gases to plasmas, exotic forms of quantum matter, and antimatter. Discussing the origins of matter in the Big Bang, he looks at atoms, energy, mass, and the mysterious forms of dark matter and dark energy, and shows that there is still a lot we don’t know about the stuff our universe is made of.

From the tiniest quantum structures to the visible universe in 140 pages! Matter = Mass = Energy; but we only understand what 5% of all the matter in the universe actually is; the rest is dark matter and dark energy.

TELESCOPES: A Very Short Introduction

Published by Oxford University Press (8 December 2016)

From the first, telescopes have made dramatic revelations about the Universe and our place in it. Galileo’s observations of the Moon’s cratered surface and discovery of Jupiter’s four big satellites profoundly altered the perception of the heavens, overturning a two-thousand year cosmology that held the Earth to be the centre of the Universe. Over the past century, the rapid development of computer technology and sophisticated materials allowed enormous strides in the construction of telescopes. Modern telescopes range from large Earth-based optical telescopes and radio arrays linking up across continents, to space-based telescopes capturing the Universe in infrared, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays. In combination, they have enabled us to look deep into the Universe and far back in time, capturing phenomena from galactic collisions to the formation of stars and planetary systems, and mapping the faint glow remaining from the Big Bang.

In this Very Short Introduction, Dr. Geoff Cottrell describes the basic physics of telescopes, the challenges of overcoming turbulence and distortion from the Earth’s atmosphere, and the special techniques used to capture X-rays and gamma rays in space telescopes. He explains the crucial developments in detectors and spectrographs that have enabled the high resolution achieved by modern telescopes, and the hopes for the new generation of telescopes currently being built across the world.