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Julian Barbour is the model for this issue’s theme. “The Country Gentleman of Physics” has written two books that reimagine nature’s laws, notably time, that have been called “masterpieces” by more conventional physicists. Although maybe no theoretical physicist should be called conventional. By nature their theories chart new skies.

But Barbour is the quintessential outsider who never wanted to settle in academia. Did that decision help Barbour in some way, science writer Michael Brooks asked him? “Oh, I would say it helped immensely,” Barbour said. The headstrong thinker relished reading and learning from histories of astronomy and physics on his own, formulating his own insights. Not that Barbour didn’t respect academics. He often dropped in on their conferences. “You meet very interesting people,” Barbour said. “I’ve made some very good friendships; it’s lovely going to these conferences. I liken myself to a bee going to get nectar from academia.”

This issue features another outsider, this one a little more well known. But whatever you may want to say about Elon Musk—and Robert Zubrin, an aerospace engineer, founder of the Mars Society and the president of Pioneer Astronautics, has many fine things to say about the SpaceX founder—Musk’s breakthroughs have been fueled by his commitment to working outside convention. You will meet the famous and unfamous, inventors and thinkers, their science and ideas, inside this issue of Nautilus.

Lead image: Lightspring / Shutterstock