Elusive Goddamn Particle

2010-10-13 00:00

IF, like me, you can’t tell your quark from your quantum you may decide not to read this book. However, it is of interest even to those who, like me, are not about to get to grips with the Standard Model of particle physics.

Central to the book is the Higgs theory that explains how elementary particles acquire mass, and central to the theory is the Higgs Bosun, dubbed the God Particle. Explaining the origins of particle mass is critical to understanding the structure of matter and its origins. Confirming or disproving the existence of the Higgs Bosun is a significant step in this quest.

Hopes for finding the Higgs Bosun currently revolve around the particle accelerator known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. It is built in the tunnel of its predecessor the Large Electron-Positron (LEP) collider. The underground circular tunnel is four metres in diameter and forms a 26-kilometre ring fitted with huge detectors.

The LHC started operating in September 2008 but had to be shut down after a malfunction caused a breakdown and significant damage. It began operating again a year later and its continuing progress is regularly in the news but the Higgs Bosun remains elusive.

Sample comprehensively describes the challenges facing scientists in Europe and the United States, including at CERN’s rival the Fermilab Tevatron Collider in the United States. He interviews many of the scientists, including Peter Higgs after whom the particle is named, and conveys the excitement of working in uncharted terrain.

And as for the nickname the God Particle, Sample says that Leon Lederman, who with Dick Teresi published a book called The God Particle in 2006, maintains that they needed a catchy title and that they wanted to call it The Goddamn Particle because it is so hard to find, but the publisher wouldn’t let them and so they settled for The God Particle instead.

Catchy the name must be. Even though Sample acknowledges that the nickname is derided by most scientists he still chose to use it in the subtitle of his own book.

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