Mermin, N. David 1935-

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Mermin, N. David 1935-


Born March 30, 1935, in New Haven CT; son of John and Eva Mermin; married Dorothy E. Milman, June 9, 1957; children: Jonathan George, Elizabeth Ruth. Education: Harvard University, A.B., 1956, A.M., 1957, Ph.D., 1961. Hobbies and other interests: Playing piano.


Home—Ithaca, NY. Office—Laboratory of Atomic and Solid Physics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-2501. E-mail—[email protected]


Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, assistant professor, 1964-67, associate professor, 1967-1972, professor of physics, 1972-1990, Horace White Professor of Physics, 1990—, professor emeritus, 2006—, director of the Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics, 1984-1990. Visiting professor and lecturer.


American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Physics Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Academy of Sciences.


Sloan Foundation fellow, 1966-68; Guggenheim Foundation fellow, 1970-71; Julius Edgar Lilienfield prize, American Physics Society, 1989.


Space and Time in Special Relativity, 1968.

(With Neil Ashcroft) Solid State Physics, 1976.

Boojums All the Way Through: Communicating Science in a Prosaic Age, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1990.

It's about Time: Understanding Einstein's Relativity, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2005.

Quantum Computer Science: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2007.

Writer of musical verses; contributor to scientific journals, including Physics Today and American Journal of Physics.


N. David Mermin is a retired professor of physics whose long career was spent at Cornell University, where he became director of the school's Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics. Mermin is the author of a number of volumes, including Boojums All the Way Through: Communicating Science in a Prosaic Age, a collection of essays written for a general audience, students, and physicists in which Mermin addresses the tools and practice of physics. His overlying theme is the substance and style of written scientific communication. In the preface, Mermin writes that he has attempted to "cut through [the] atmosphere of verbal dreariness with which scientists seem unnecessarily to have surrounded themselves." Mermin further writes that by expressing physics "limply" it becomes "less fun. Just as important, when we write physics or about physics as badly as we often now do, we undermine our science. We injure ourselves when we fail to make our discipline as clear and vibrant as we can to students—prospective scientists—and to the public who pay the taxes that support the science. I would even maintain that having acquired the habit of indifference to writing, we have made it easier for bad scientific writing to cover up bad thinking, thereby threatening science itself."

It's about Time: Understanding Einstein's Relativity comes from Mermin's experiences teaching physics to students who were not science majors. This text is accessible to readers with a background of high school algebra and geometry, audiences who understand that at approximately the speed of light time slows down, dimensions shrink, and mass increases, but who do not understand why. The life and work of Albert Einstein (1879-1955) continues to fascinate and provide a basis for not only the work of other scientists, but also that of artists, architects, and musicians. In reviewing the book for the American Scientist, Peter L. Galison wrote: "When wearing his research hat, Cornell's David Mermin is a theoretical physicist, but his ferocious drive to find the simplest explanations of physical concepts has echoed far beyond work in his research specialty." Galison noted that it was Mermin who brought an understanding of Bell's inequality to several generations of science philosophers and physicists. Galison also commented on Mermin's switching between different frames of reference and the fact that there is only one other explanation that is similarly not dependent on a single choice of inertial reference frame, and that was written by Einstein himself.

Foundations of Physics contributor Arkady Plotnitsky noted that in It's about Time, "one learns how Einstein's relativity and physics think and work. The book is a writing of physics itself, as well as writing about physics. Very few books do this for both physicists and nonphysicists (other scientists, philosophers, historians, or lay readers) alike, and this is why this book is rare and perhaps unique. It's about Time gets us closer to the way physics and physicists think, and thus it makes all of its readers physicists, even those who are not physicists already, at least for a while, while they read the book."

Mermin noted on his Web site that with Quantum Computer Science: An Introduction, he attempted "to put the subject of quantum computation together in a way that will make sense to computer scientists unfamiliar with quantum mechanics, physicists unfamiliar with computational complexity theory, and philosophers of science with an interest in quantum foundations." The volume incorporates Mermin's lecture notes.

Mermin plays piano, particularly enjoying Beethoven and Mozart, according to his Web site. "I have written verses to accompany the world premiere of Mark G. Simon's Carnival of the Subatomic Particles, a suite of 13 short musical portraits of subatomic particles, scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. A version of the verses, including 12 Onegin stanzas in praise of the Standard Model, can be found in the July, 2007 issue of Physics Today."



American Journal of Physics, November, 1990, John S. Rigden, review of Boojums All the Way Through: Communicating Science in a Prosaic Age, p. 1115.

American Scientist, May 1, 2006, Peter L. Galison, review of It's about Time: Understanding Einstein's Relativity, p. 264.

Booklist, October 15, 2005, Gilbert Taylor, review of It's about Time, p. 15.

Byte, March, 1991, review of Boojums All the Way Through, p. 389; November, 1991, review of Boojums All the Way Through, p. 130.

Choice, April, 2006, E. Kincanon, review of It's about Time, p. 1439.

Contemporary Physics, July 1, 1990, Peter Knight, review of Boojums All the Way Through, p. 275.

Foundations of Physics, August, 2006, Arkady Plotnitsky, review of It's about Time, p. 1286.

Nature, October 27, 2005, Derek Raine, review of It's about Time, p. 1237.

New Scientist, July 14, 1990, review of Boojums All the Way Through, p. 59; November 26, 2005, Amanda Gefter, review of It's about Time, p. 52.

Physics Today, October, 1992, Peter Franken, review of Boojums All the Way Through, p. 118; June, 2006, Nigel Dowrick, review of It's about Time, p. 61.

School Science Review, September, 2006, Okan Avni, review of It's about Time, p. 135.

Science Books & Films, March 1, 2006, Ted R. Spickler, review of It's about Time, p. 65.

Times Higher Education Supplement, March 10, 2006, Simon Mitton, review of It's about Time, p. 26.


Cornell University Web site, (February 7, 2008), faculty profile of N. David Mermin.