A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Reviewed: Understanding the universe: from quarks to the cosmos

11/01/04

The past decade has seen an explosion of books about physics for the non-specialist. However, few of their authors ever get their hands really dirty in among the actual experiments that drive progress in physics.

Reviewed: Understanding the Universe: from Quarks to the Cosmos 
Don Lincoln
World Scientific, Singapore, 2004


The past decade has seen an explosion of books about physics for the non-specialist. However, few of their authors ever get their hands really dirty in among the actual experiments that drive progress in physics. There also seems to be room for a slightly more advanced level of popular science book for those aficionados who have graduated from introductions to relativity, quantum mechanics and cosmology.

Don Lincoln, an experimentalist on DZero at Fermilab, motivates his tale of the development of particle physics, from its origins to its current state, almost entirely by experiments, a refreshing alternative to the usual theoretical treatments. Rather than posing thought experiments, Lincoln describes real experiments that have led to deeper questions and the con-sequent progress of particle physics. Particularly useful is his discussion of the modern accelerators and detectors that are the workhorses of the field. This is information that would normally be revealed to those embarking on an experimental particle physics program, and almost never to the casual observer or the science-interested general public.

With his light and easy-to-read style, Lincoln's humor and personal tales do much to convey the flavor of modern particle physics research—a picture that is not often painted so realistically in other popular physics books. The content is more complicated than in most similar books, but this is a virtue for its intended audience, as it allows for greater depth.

The book is as current as publication timetables allow, but even since it went to press, the observation of direct CP-violation, higher precision measurements of the top quark mass and other results are missing. But this reflects only the rapid progress of the field, not any weakness of the book. And as Lincoln indicates in his concluding words, there is much research still to be done, and he is keen to get back into it.

David Harris

 

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