Cracking the Particle Code of the Universe Hardcover – 6 Mar 2014
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There are many books on the market that describe the Higgs boson discovery. This book's uniqueness is its author's uncompromising drive to question both theory and experiment. It might frustrate you. You might love it. (Tara Shears, Times Higher Education)
Two things make this book stand out. One is the authorâs personal involvement in the field over a long period, and the other is that he is brave enough not to take the simplistic stance that weâve found the Higgs and itâs all over, but rather to point out that things are a lot more complicated than the press releases from CERN would suggest. (Brian Clegg, Popular Science)
About the Author
John W. Moffat has been a professor of physics for more than three decades. He is currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, a member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and adjunct professor in the physics department at the University of Waterloo. Moffat is well known for his alternative theory of gravity to Einstein's general relativity. He is the author of Reinventing Gravity: A Physicist Goes Beyond Einstein and Einstein Wrote Back: My Life in Physics.
Top customer reviews
Two things make this book stand out. One is the author’s personal involvement in the field over a long period, and the other is that he is brave enough not to take the simplistic stance that we’ve found the Higgs and it’s all over, but rather to point out that things are a lot more complicated than the press releases from CERN would suggest, and that there is certainly no sense in which we can say that the standard model is complete and particle physics is signed off. In fact, as Moffat shows, it is entirely possible to generate masses using quantum field theory without the complication of a Higgs boson. He may be a minority voice – but there is certainly a lot that’s interesting about this alternative view.
The book isn’t dominated by Moffat’s own theory as he takes us through the hunt for the Higgs and the implications of the discoveries made at CERN – but equally, lacking the usual need to bolster a career that means once a theory gains enough followers it becomes gospel until there’s a major shift (Fred Hoyle likened such physicists to a flock of geese), Moffat is able to give us a uniquely balanced viewpoint.
It isn’t the easiest read – although in some ways he gives one of the best explanations of symmetry breaking (something that rarely makes sense in popular attempts to explain it as it is dependent on a mathematical world rather than anything observed), his science does crack along at a pace that requires a fair amount of application of a piece of advice I received early on while an undergraduate studying physics when my supervisor said that the only way to cope is not to panic when you don’t understand – let it flow over you, and gradually it will make sense.
If you are happy to take that approach, then I can’t recommend this book too highly. If you want an easy, hand-held read, though, look elsewhere.
It's a fast-paced book and, although it has no maths in it as such (no equations, anyway), it is not really a beginner's book. It would help if the reader has some knowledge of the basics of quantum theory, gauge theories and the principles of symmetry as they're applied to particle physics. That's not to say a beginner wouldn't get something out of it, it's just that such a person may find themselves getting a bit lost amongst some of the concepts and terminology.
I tend to classify books like this from level 1 to level 3, with level 1 being what might be called 'popular science' and level 3 being more of a text book (with much accompanying mathematics). I'd see this book as level 2.
But this is a good book. The author looks at a lot of different angles and presents the opinions of others as well as he presents his own.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
We are now near (3) and (4) where particle physics is concerned. Super-symmetry, strings, dark matter, dark energy, colors, charms, etc. are the epicycles of today.
John Moffat is our Virgil, leading us through the labyrinth of the particles and the (expensive) construct of CERN and the search for the Higgs boson. We still don't know whether the hints of two years ago were statistical anomalies or valid sightings. The feeling I have is that Peter Higgs et al. received the Nobel Prize because the vast expenditure of funds and time was otherwise unjustifiable. But in the current theory, we've done away with William of Ockham.
But Moffat has given us a lucid description of theory and experimental findings. He has delivered an enjoyable "read." He has long been a "bad boy": suggesting a variable speed of light and an alternative to gravity (no, this doesn't mean that apples fall up).
I have the feeling that the snark is a boojum.
Burma which as has been observed by many writers is a country like no other.
John Moffat leads us through the intertwined experimental and theoretical developments that have produced physicists' current understanding of the elementary particles the universe is made of. Along the way we see science in action, and the ideas, motives, personalities and politics that guide it.
For their theoretical prediction, fifty years ago, of a new elementary particle that gives mass to everything else in the universe, Francois Englert and Peter Higgs were awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics. This followed the July 4, 2012 announcement of the experimental discovery of the Higgs boson -- an enormous scientific and technological achievement of thousands of scientists who built and used the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and its cathedral-sized particle detectors at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
Moffat had an insider's view from the start, and is still contributing fresh ideas. As a young postdoctoral fellow he shared an office with Peter Higgs at Imperial College, London. Through his research on many aspects of particle theory, relativity, gravity, cosmology and more, Moffat crossed paths with most (if not all) of the major players in the Higgs particle story. (I was a student of Moffat's during the 1970s, and for the past decade I have had the good fortune to regularly explore and debate fundamental physics ideas with him. Many of the stories he has told me of his interactions with now-famous physicists are recounted in his memoir: Einstein Wrote Back.)
In the first third of this book, Moffat provides an accessible introduction to particle physics, from both theoretical and experimental perspectives. He guides the reader through progressive discoveries of subatomic particles and model development that culminated in the "standard model" of the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces, with the Higgs boson the only unobserved component. Moffat then addresses the experimental side, from early detection of the electron and cosmic rays to the discovery of quarks and the many other particles of the standard model, using modern accelerators and their sophisticated detectors. This is followed by a more ambitious overview, still directed to the thoughtful layman, of the core mathematical concepts underlying the standard model and the Higgs mechanism for mass generation.
For the rest of book Moffat focuses on the LHC and the search for the Higgs boson and for signs that other popular theoretical ideas might help resolve outstanding issues with the standard model. Weaving together an explanation of those issues, possible ways of resolving them, the progressive emergence of data, and challenges with data analysis, Moffat relates a dramatic story of science in progress. Although discovery of the Higgs has been announced, resolution of the many unresolved issues will require much more data after the LHC restarts in 2015. We will see then whether the Nobel committee was too hasty.
The book includes references to key papers, an extensive glossary, suggested further reading, and an index.
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