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on 17 September 2013
So densely packed is the information in this little book the author is to be commended for creating the literary equivalent of a neutron star. Indeed the scope of this short work is astonishing: covering such issues as reconciling the age of the sun with evolutionary timescales, supernovae, the discovery of radiation and the application of Newtonian physics and special relativity to the discovery of the neutrino.

Physics aside, Close presents a compelling study of the serendipitous nature of scientific investigation both in terms of discoveries and the recognition given to the scientists who are the human protagonists in the drama. A success of the book is in celebrating the contribution of the likes of Pontecorvo and Bahcall, overlooked by the Nobel Prize committees but admired by fellow scientists.

This book is detailed in the scientific methodology of neutrino detection but is equally focussed on the human circumstances associated with the research. The resolution of the missing solar neutrinos is balanced by the cruel irony that it led to unnecessary suspicions about the reliably of the use of chlorine as a means of detection which ultimately stripped the likes of Bahcall the recognition his calculations deserved.

The author is gifted in being able to discuss such a wide spectrum of ideas in an effortless and succinct style. This is best evidenced in the brilliant description of the traversing of neutrinos from a supernova explosion 170, 000 light years across space juxtaposed against a description of the emerging evolution of humanity, before finally being detected in 1987.

Although neutrinos may at first seem rather esoteric, Close is able to emphasise their scientific significance in for example neutrino astronomy which has been used to confirm scientific theories about supernovae and resultant neutron stars. He also highlights the future potential role of neutrino geophysics in enhancing the understanding of our own planet.
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on 14 March 2011
Perhaps the most beautifully written as well as highly informative book on the particle that pervades every square of our Universe. Frank Close interweaves the chronological discovery and subsequent chase for the Neutrino, in a way that unfolds as a story whilst at the same time informing us all about this elusive particle. A real page turner, and exciting stuff.
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on 22 December 2010
I first became aware of Neutrinos in 1969 thanks to the BBC TV program 'Violent Universe' and the book of the same title by Nigel Calder. I have been intrigued by this enigmatic atomic particle ever since and even named my Laser racing dinghy 'Neutrino' in 1970, although my speed through the water was slightly slower than that of the light speed of the actual particle! As soon as I saw this book by Frank Close a couple of weeks ago I had to buy it and was not disappointed.
As an interested layman with a scientific background the book is at exactly the right level for me. There is some fascinating historical details with some famous particle physicists involved including Pauli, Rutherford and Fermi. But the book is more about John Bahcall, Ray Davies and Bruno Pontecorvo - names which I suspect very few people not directly involved in Neutrino science and the study of the nuclear reactions in the sun will have heard of. This is a serious book written in a very readable way, but there are some lighthearted moments. Like when Bahcall, after hearing news that his calculations had been proved correct after 30 years says 'I feel like dancing, I'm so happy'. Then there are the first two sentences of Chapter 10 'Where were you at 07.30 GMT on 23 February 1987? I was having breakfast when, unknown to me, a burst of neutrinos passed through my cornflakes'. Great stuff!!
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Neutrino by Frank Close, Oxford, 2010, 192 ff.
The story of the almost invisible particle
By Howard Jones

`All in all, there are more neutrinos [in the universe] than any other particle' (p.2): it sounds as though we ought to know a bit more about them. This is another in a series of books on quantum physics written by Frank Close, Emeritus Fellow in Physics at the University of Oxford . Close has spent his research career investigating and teaching the physics of subatomic particles and his writing is to be commended for its accessibility by the non-specialist, so we would be hard pressed to find a better authority on the subject of neutrinos.

The details here however are a bit more specialised than in Close's earlier books. The history of the discovery of neutrinos is as fascinating as that for antimatter, the subject of an earlier short monograph by Close. It shows the importance of chance or fate in being at the right place at the right time, but also the need for a prepared mind - a mind that is alert and open to new discoveries. But the background to the discovery of the neutrino needed an understanding of the nature of other subatomic particles first, as explained here by Close, so had to wait until the discovery of the neutron.

The developmental work on neutrinos involved a study of the nature of the sun's energy source, and even of the age of the Earth in finding theoretical evidence to back up the geological and evolutionary data suggesting an age of many millions rather than just thousands of years. The story of the role of one of the main players, Bruno Pontecorvo, is itself quite fascinating, especially to those of us who remember him as an Italian immigrant to Britain who defected to the Soviet Union around 1950. Establishing the existence of neutrinos (and their mirror-partners, antineutrinos) and methods to create and detect them almost at will has in fact given rise to the whole new sub-discipline of neutrino astronomy which enables us to get glimpses into the nature of distant galaxies. It has also given physicists a tool with which to investigate the `weak force', one of the four forces of nature and the most difficult to study.

This is a book for readers interested in modern particle physics and astronomy or in the history of science and the personalities involved.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, U.K.; and The World as Spirit published by Fairhill Publishing, Whitland, West Wales, 2011.

The New Cosmic Onion: Quarks and the Nature of the Universe
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on 1 May 2011
"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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on 13 February 2012
If you're looking to an answer as to whether they travel faster than light, you're not going to find it here. This book was written two years before CERN's speculative announcement but don't let that put you off.
The story of the neutrino, from its conception to the quest for its discovery and the problems it has caused physics since it was are all in here in an easy read format.
By easy read, I mean you'll not get lost in jargon, or complex terminology here. It's straight forward but doesn't miss anything out.
However, with upwards of 60 billion of them passing through your fingernails every second of every day and night, you'd be justified if you felt everyone should have some idea what they are and why they are important. This book will provide anyone with an interest in science, precisely that. It tells the stories of the physicists involved, their long struggle with confusing data and how cold war politics got in the way.
Ultimately it brings the reader to the exciting conclusion that these tiny ghosts of matter have only just begun to tell us their secrets.
One thing this book does teach you is that in neutrino physics, everything takes a long time.
This means that the "faster than light" problem is not likely to be solved imminently and as a consequence, there won't be a new edition of this book for a while. So i suggest you buy it now. I don't think there is a more accessible book on the subject out there.
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on 1 July 2012
An excellent combination of history and physics, enough detail is given to understand the complexity and frustrations of the search for Neutrinos and Anti-Neutrinos.
Minimal knowledge of physics and mathematics is all you need to give a full appreciation of the problems involved.
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on 10 June 2014
Like a neutrino beam this book is both dense and light at the same time. Obviously written for the educated layperson it explains in exquisite details the mechanics behind the neutrino. But the explanations always remain remarkably clear. Occasionally some concepts may require a bit more effort for the uninitiated, but the author only discusses what is necessary to understand the story. And that is precisely what this book is: a story of the neutrino.

That story starts in 1930 and ends here around 2005. The main plot revolves around three little known characters: Raymond Davis, John Bahcall and Bruno Pontecorvo. They come to life in this book like never before. They are the unsung heroes of particle physics and only the specialists know who they are and what they have accomplished. But these three pioneers will now be able to rest in peace because Close has done a wonderful job of revealing for the first time to a large audience their true contribution to modern physics. The author tells this story like if he was talking to his students in a classroom, recounting how the neutrino was first conceived in the imagination of the scientists and how it was eventually discovered many years later. In the process we come to learn the physics of the neutrino, like students riveted to the blackboard, with our minds captivated by personal and scientific anecdotes intertwined with science lessons. The author was very successful at maintaining a good balance between the human aspect and the scientific endeavour. And because the elusive nature of the neutrino and its mysterious character often extended to the protagonists themselves it made a fascinating read.

While doing the research for this book the author uncovered so many interesting facts about Pontecorvo that he decided to write a dedicated biography: "Half-Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist or Spy". Like for the anticipated discovery of the neutrino, these two books were long overdue.
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on 10 July 2012
I found this book engrossing. The particle physics was well described in a way that's easy to read yet not patronising to the reader. The human story of the first time the neutrino was postulated through to modern "neutrino telescopes" was also engrossing. The only thing that it lacked was a simple to read table listing the time-line of events and people - that would have been a better 'reprise' chapter.
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on 19 July 2012
All books by Frank Close are excellent, informative & reliable. This one, though, not only tells the elusive story of the elusive neutrino, but also shows its author as a careful chronicler of his fellow scientists' work, ensuring that credit for their ingenuities & dedication is recorded fairly where it belongs, yet all as part of the story of discovery. So if you only read one of his books, let this be it: after all, neutrinos are clearly at the heart of the universe's evolution. (By the way, to answer a question elsewhere in these reviews, there is an understanding of particle oscillations, & nailing further details for the neutrino by observation will help progress a line of enquiry probably as significant as that for the Higgs mechanism).
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