Books to Get You Thinking

On July 4th, 2012 an announcement from CERN, the world’s largest Particle Physics Lab situated in Geneva set the entire scientific community ablaze with sensational news about the probable discovery of the long sought Higgs Boson Particle. The search for the elusive particle dates back to about half a century ago – it was back in 1964 that the physicist, Peter Higgs proposed a theory postulating the existence of a field (named the Higgs field) that would help us understand how particles acquire mass.  The Higgs field plays a critical role in explaining   interactions between fundamental forces, the structure of matter and the evolution of the universe.  One direct inference following from the Higgs theory was the prediction of the existence of the Higgs Boson Particle which has an extremely short life time and unique properties. The Higgs field strengthened the Standard Model of fundamental particles and has inspired a wealth of new research in the realm of particle physics. The hunt for the Higgs Particle has been pursued vigorously by thousands of scientists all over the world with billions of dollars spent on the construction of particle smashing accelerators the biggest being the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva where two independent teams of scientists have been working round the clock to crack the mystery of the elusive Higgs particle.

The discovery of the Higgs Particle signals a break through advancement on the frontiers of scientific research achieved through cutting edge technology. This remarkable and groundbreaking discovery is also testament to the amazing capacity of the human brain to fathom the deepest mysteries of Nature and to explore and understand some of the most complex forces that govern the existence of the Universe.  In addition the event marks an extraordinary triumph of research collaboration between the world’s greatest thinkers and scientists to stretch the limits of our collective knowledge.  For all of us curious about the Higgs particle and what the discovery of this particle means, Mercer County Library has a collection of resources that will help us find answers to some of the most fundamental questions about Nature and the Universe around us.

The Particle Garden: Our Universe as Understood by Particle Physicists by Gordon Kane                                                                                                                                                                                                       In this very lucid and well written book, Gordon Kane, a leading particle physicist and Professor at the University of Michigan has focused on presenting an overview of the field of particle physics, its discoveries, and the questions being researched.  It is written in a format that will be readily understood by non technical readers interested in learning about the structure of the universe  and how it works. Readers are introduced to the building blocks of matter, and to the structure of molecules and atoms. The standard theory of fundamental particles is described in terms of “the particles of matter (quarks and leptons) on which forces act and the particles that transmit the forces (gauge bosons and Higgs bosons).” The experimental foundations of the standard theory are also discussed in depth with details on both past and ongoing experiments designed to  substantiate theories and their predictions. Kane concludes by raising important  questions about the possible future directions for particle physics  including the study of dark matter, superstrings and the  integration of “supersymmetry” into our understanding of how the Universe works.

Knocking On Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World by Lisa Randall                                                                                                                                       The author is a professor of Physics at Harvard specializing in theoretical particle physics, string theory and cosmology. In this engaging book Randall brings to the forefront  the current leading research being conducted in physics in our efforts to understand the fundamental forces in play at the very small (sub atomic) and large scale (cosmological). Randall who excels in science writing for the wider public with little or no foundation in science or math gives a brilliant overview of both the existing theories that have evolved to describe the working of the Universe as well as the experiments devised to validate this theoretical framework. Published a year before the recent probable discovery of the Higgs Boson, Randall explains with great lucidity the design and construction of the Large Hadron Collider and the experiments carried out  in search of  the missing Higgs Particle with the aid of the giant accelerator. Through this fascinating book the author seeks to address the critical question of where physics is, the direction where it’s headed and the many important questions facing the discipline today.  Randall also skillfully articulates how the quest to understand the principles governing the sub atomic world is continually shaping our appreciation of nature and what lies behind “Heaven's Door”.

Massive: the Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science by Ian Sample                                                                                                                                                                                                                  In this engaging book the author, Ian Sample provides interesting insights on events which  have shaped the frontiers of particle physics over the years. Readers get a view of the enormous research efforts that have been undertaken across the decades by scientists across many nations to validate the existence of Higgs Boson particle.  At the same time there is a fascinating account centered on the intellectual debate and institutional rivalries which resulted in the race to find the Higgs Boson Particle.  The author recalls how several generations of accelerators were deployed, and the economic and engineering obstacles research leaders had to overcome to justify the huge investment in particle physics research. The book includes an   absorbing account of the life of Peter Higgs , the physicist after whom the Higgs field and the Higgs Boson Particle were named , tracing his time at Chapel Hill where he worked  at refining  his theory to his later years at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton where his theory  first received recognized  turning him into a central figure in one of the most exciting inquiries in  modern science .

The Particle Odyssey: A Journey to the Heart of the Matter by Frank Close, Michael Marten, Christine Sutton                                                                                                                                                                 An exciting journey through time that sweeps across the many landmark discoveries that have made an indelible mark in physics, and the technology, experiments, and scientists who made them possible from X-rays and radioactivity to the structure of atoms, cosmic rays and new particles.  Michael Marten, a photojournalist and founder of the Science Photo Library provides the beautiful color photographs that are found in abundance throughout the book and introduces readers to captivating images of atoms, electrons, the protons, neutrons and photons, their structure, interaction and collision. In one comprehensive volume the authors present a fascinating tapestry interweaving the science behind the nature of matter with the stories of how the discoveries took place and the scientists behind them as well as specifics of the amazing machines that were designed and used for conducting experiments and research to validate the scientific theories. The section on particle accelerators – the enormous machines that boost protons to almost the speed of light is especially fascinating in light of the recent discovery of the Higgs particle in the Large Hadron Collider of the CERN Lab.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    - Nita Mathur 

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