Review published on November 20, 2016.
Most people know that you can take an object and break it down into its pure elements, and from that you can use an electron microscope to look at the very atoms that make up the 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 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 he sets about describing the wonders and mysteries that scientists have discovered. We learn about the string theory, whether 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 we glimpse the fleeting trace of the neutrino. All of these sub-particles are collectively known as the particle zoo, the most elusive of which is the Higgs Bosun.
Hesketh is eminently qualified to write this book, since he is an experimental particle physicist involved in the world’s largest and most expensive experiment, the Large Hadron Collider (better known as CERN). Here, 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 hours 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, more questions are posed.
Overall, Hesketh has written a comprehensive guide to the latest developments concerning the strange sub-atomic world. It is a very weird world indeed, but thankfully he does bring some clarity to 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 more general history of particle physics.
Paul Cheney 4/3
The Particle Zoo by Gavin Hesketh
Quercus 9781784298678 hbk Sep 2016
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