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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is anything undetectable any more?, 1 May 2011
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This review is from: Neutrino (Hardcover)
"Neutrino" exemplifies perfectly the way in which science is supposed to work: induction leads to hypothesis from which predictions may be made which are testable by experiment, leading in turn to provisional acceptance, modification or abandonment. And, as usual when things turn out well, there is some unforeseen development through which we end up knowing far more than was ever envisaged.

An essentially undetectable, massless, charge-less particle, conceived of as emerging from an obscure laboratory experiment in the days when only two other fundamental particles were known, turns out to be the most numerous inhabitant of the universe and to throw light upon processes at the heart of stars and supernovae. Invented as a means of getting some energy and momentum off the balance sheet - to avoid breach of conservation laws - the neutrino is now itself suspected of infringing another conservation law, that of lepton number, and of being an accessory in parity violation.

This is an excellent long short-story in which the neutrino is not so much hero as crafty villain, a master of disguise whose character is still not entirely clear even after 70 years of investigation. The action is remarkably gripping, for all the painstaking and dogged pace of neutrino research. The scientific heros, their achievements and rewards are brought vividly to life, despite their choice of what was considered a non-charismatic field.

These few dogged characters worked for decades in isolation on different aspects of neutrino research: a visionary predictor of evermore bizarre properties who relayed his thoughts from behind the iron curtain; a theoretical refiner of calculated solar neutrino output, dismissed as hopelessly wrong but right on the money all along; and a relentless hunter of the infinitesimal who pioneered the use of gargantuan experimental apparatus - cathedral-sized caverns, miles underground, which at various times contained Canada's entire stock of heavy water and the total world output of gallium.

A most enjoyable read; thoroughly recommended.

Oddly enough, it is only the balance-sheet aspect which the author does not thoroughly address. Neutrinos and their anti-particles are constantly being created in the most abundant reactions in the universe but there is no corresponding destruction process of even remotely equivalent prevalence. Normal matter is virtually transparent to neutrinos (they react only with nuclei; and since all the nuclei on Earth would fit comfortably into a sphere the size of Hyde Park, the planet barely exists for them). Black holes would presumably achieve 100% annihilation for any neutrinos unfortunate enough to hit one. That may not be very important, but I would like to know.
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