7 of the Best Particle Physics Books, According to Suzie Sheehy

What is the nature of matter, how does the Universe work and how does it affect us? In my book, The matter of everything, I explore how our adventures in the heart of matter have profoundly changed the world. This isn’t just a theoretical story: it’s a story of ambitious, creative, often nearly impossible experiments that have brought deep insights into nature, vast technological and societal changes, and inspired us to work together like never before.

Searching for these stories made me fall in love with physics all over again, ultimately giving me hope for our future. At a time when the influence of science and technology can be anxiety-provoking and frightening, it’s more important than ever to find hope in stories of what humanity can achieve when we truly work together to research comprehension.

These are some of the books that have inspired me, and I hope they will also pique your curiosity. And if you feel like browsing for more great science reading, check out this list of the best science books to pass those lazy summer days.

The best particle physics books to read in 2022

The usefulness of useless knowledge

Abraham Flexner

This theme was on my mind before I started writing my book, when a small parcel appeared in my mailbox at Oxford Physics, dropped off by a colleague. It contained a paperback containing a powerful 1939 essay by Abraham Flexner – the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton – which eloquently asserts that “useless” research is ultimately the most powerful source of innovation. that we have.

The idea that curiosity-driven research – or “blue sky” thinking – is a powerful force behind technology and societal change is not new. It is, however, an idea that many scientists would like to see more widely understood and appreciated, especially by our political leaders.

Memories and thoughts

JJ Thomson, edited by G. Bell

JJ Thomson discovered the electron, which led – to his surprise – to whole new industries, including electronics, television, radio and telecommunications. Despite his status as an intellectual heavyweight, I confess that it gave me joy to realize that Thomson was also anxious to learn how to use scientific equipment well enough to produce reliable results in the laboratory.

It’s shamelessly a book for those who like a bit of physics history and not a popular tome, but I find myself pulling it off the shelf every year to share with my first-year physics students when we discover the work of Thomson. What emerges throughout his exceptionally distinguished career is a fascinating character and endearing human being. It helps my students realize that even Thomson was not always on the right track: there is, after all, a whole chapter on his investigations into seances and the paranormal!

The fly in the cathedral

Brian Catcart

The atom is amazing in many ways, but especially in its dimensions. If we enlarged the atom to the size of a cathedral, we would find that even though the electrons are on the walls of the cathedral, the nucleus at its heart would be so small that it would be no bigger than a fly . Between the two, physicists realized at the beginning of the 20th century, there is nothing* at all.

Despite this, the nucleus contains about 99.97% of the atomic mass, so it is of crucial importance for our understanding of the atom. Reaching the atomic nucleus and understanding its nature required far more complex experiments than ever before, leading to a frantic race from around 1927 to 1932 to build the first particle accelerator.

In his marvelous and deeply researched book, Cathcart tells the in-depth story of the race to build the first particle accelerator and in particular the work of the tireless John Cockcroft and the young Irishman Ernest Walton, as well as the larger than life Ernest Rutherford and his modest but resourceful colleague James Chadwick.

*Later, thanks to quantum mechanics, it became clear that even nothingness – the void – was not quite what it seemed.

Out of the Shadows: Twentieth-Century Women’s Contributions to Physics

Nina Buyers

Science is not an individual quest, but a team quest. Yet we writers dare not involve every character in a team of fifty or we know we will soon drive our readers – and editors – to despair. As a result, stories of scientific discovery are often told as if by a few lone geniuses or (to put it bluntly) great white men. Those who play a lesser role in the story are often simply left behind, and these omissions can be compounded by prejudices and stereotypes.

In my research, I found that women – often unpaid or working in the role of assistants and students – were often overlooked in other books. This is partly because they were never well known and their contributions – including those of Harriet Brooks, Marietta Blau and Bibha Chowdury – were not recognized until many years later. For me, it was a pleasure to go beyond Marie Curie to find many women physicists. They just jumped at me from the page: in the acknowledgments, in the photographs, sometimes even as lead authors of scientific papers.

Unfortunately, getting to know them more deeply has been surprisingly difficult: sadly few biographies of women physicists exist, and their letters and memories often go unrecorded. Fortunately, this book – an edited volume of 40 biographies written by world experts – fills that void somewhat.

my world line

george gamow

Gamow was an outstanding Russian-American theoretical physicist and, as his informal autobiography recalls, a direct thread with a great sense of humor. It shows in his writings, and he enjoyed writing, including about 30 popular books in physics. He was also an outstanding physicist, contributing to a wide variety of areas from physics, including the application of quantum theory to the nucleus (a story early in his career, which features in my book) to cosmology. His books are most entertaining, and this autobiography full of anecdotes throughout his life and career is no exception.

Tunnel visions

Michael Riordan, Lillian Hoddeson and Adrienne W Kolb

It is often said that we learn more from our failures than from our successes: this excellent book – written by three of the most eminent writers in the history of particle physics – details the rise and fall of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC ), a planned 80 km long collider in the United States that could have found the Higgs boson long before the Large Hadron Collider. It was originally planned as a “global laboratory” located in Texas, USA, with support from international contributions. After miles of tunnels were built, the Cold War ended, the budget ran out, other countries refused to contribute, and in 1993 the project was canceled by Congress. Many lessons have been learned.

Massive: The missing particle that sparked science’s greatest hunt

Ian Sample

Many discoveries in physics have been accidental, but my book presents a forty-year history of discovery that happened very intentionally: the search for the Higgs boson. Sample’s book is one of the most engaging accounts I’ve come across of this decades-long search, involving egos, politics, huge collaborations, billions of dollars, and ultimately an incredibly moving achievement. . A truly captivating read, by an award-winning writer.

The matter of everything by Suzie Sheehy was released on April 28, 2022 (£20, Bloomsbury)

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