Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Review: The Particle Zoo: The Search for the Fundamental Nature of Reality

The Particle Zoo: The Search for the Fundamental Nature of Reality The Particle Zoo: The Search for the Fundamental Nature of Reality by Gavin Hesketh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Most people know that you can take an object and break it down to its pure elements, and from that you can use an electron microscope to look at the very atoms that make up that element. In the early part of the twentieth century, we discovered that the atom consisted of protons, neutrons and electrons. For a while physicists thought that that was it, with regards to the makeup of all the elements. But, slowly and surely these three particles were split again and again to answer the fundamental question: what are these particles made from?

In this book Hesketh, explains the processes behind breaking down these particles into smaller and smaller pieces and sets about describing the wonders and mysteries that the scientists have discovered. We learn about the string theory, if there is dark matter and the finer nuances of quantum physics. In this strange new world we unearth the weird and wonderful time-travelling electrons, gravitons and glueballs and glimpse the fleeting trace of the neutrino. All of these sub particles are collectively called the particle zoo, the most elusive of which is the Higgs Bosun.

Hesketh is eminently qualified to write this, as he is an experimental particle physicist at the world’s largest and most expensive experiment, the Large Hadron Collider; better known as CERN. At this place particles are accelerated up to a speed not short of the speed of light before being slammed into each other. The result is a high energy collision and physicists spend hour pouring over the results determining just what particles are produced. A lot of what has been discovered fits the standard model that was developed in the 1970s, but for every question answered, there are more that are posed.

Overall Hesketh has written a comprehensive guide to the latest developments of the strange sub-atomic world. It is a very weird world indeed, but thankfully he does bring some clarity on the mystery that is particle physics. At times it is it baffling, and often stranger than fiction; as he says at one point ‘you couldn’t make it up’! But it is a good book for a reader interested in recent progress made at CERN and a general history of particle physics. 3.5 stars

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