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Collider: The Search for the World's Smallest Particles [Hardcover]

by Paul Halpern
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 1, 2009 0470286202 978-0470286203
An accessible look at the hottest topic in physics and the experiments that will transform our understanding of the universe

The biggest news in science today is the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most powerful particle-smasher, and the anticipation of finally discovering the Higgs boson particle. But what is the Higgs boson and why is it often referred to as the God Particle? Why are the Higgs and the LHC so important? Getting a handle on the science behind the LHC can be difficult for anyone without an advanced degree in particle physics, but you don't need to go back to school to learn about it. In Collider, award-winning physicist Paul Halpern provides you with the tools you need to understand what the LHC is and what it hopes to discover.

  • Comprehensive, accessible guide to the theory, history, and science behind experimental high-energy physics
  • Explains why particle physics could well be on the verge of some of its greatest breakthroughs, changing what we think we know about quarks, string theory, dark matter, dark energy, and the fundamentals of modern physics
  • Tells you why the theoretical Higgs boson is often referred to as the God particle and how its discovery could change our understanding of the universe
  • Clearly explains why fears that the LHC could create a miniature black hole that could swallow up the Earth amount to a tempest in a very tiny teapot
  • ""Best of 2009 Sci-Tech Books (Physics)""-Library Journal
  • ""Halpern makes the search for mysterious particles pertinent and exciting by explaining clearly what we don't know about the universe, and offering a hopeful outlook for future research.""-Publishers Weekly
  • Includes a new author preface, ""The Fate of the Large Hadron Collider and the Future of High-Energy Physics""

The world will not come to an end any time soon, but we may learn a lot more about it in the blink of an eye. Read Collider and find out what, when, and how.



Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Top Ten Ways the Large Hadron Collider Could Revolutionize the World of Science
Content from Paul Halpern

1. Solve the riddle of dark matter: the elusive invisible substance that helps steer the outer stars of galaxies and bind galaxies into clusters. The LHC could produce particles massive enough to explain this mystery.

2. Complete the puzzle of the Standard Model: the theory uniting two of the four known forces of nature, electromagnetism and the weak interaction. Based on what turns up in the LHC decay products, this model could be confirmed or need to be modified.

3. Identify the God Particle: more formally known as the Higgs boson. The Higgs is part of a mechanism that explains how the particles that make up matter acquired mass in the early universe, while photons, the carriers of light, remained massless. The mass of the Higgs, if it were found, would help indicate whether the Standard Model is fine as it stands or requires adjustment.

4. Reproduce some of the intense conditions of the Big Bang: the fiery, highly-compact state of the primordial cosmos. One of the specialized detectors at the LHC, called ALICE, will study quark-gluon plasma, a state of matter that existed in the first microseconds of the universe. At that point its temperature was so high that the quarks and gluons that would later form elementary particles such as protons and neutrons were free to move.

5. Explain the universe’s shortage of antimatter: the oppositely-charged counterparts of electrons, protons and other particles. The LHCb, another specialized detector at the LHC, is designed to look for imbalances in certain types of decays that could elucidate how the balance of a harmonious early state of the universe came to tilt in the direction of far more matter than antimatter.

6. Generate miniature black holes: hypothetical incredibly dense states of matter analogous to some of the intense gravitational conditions of the collapsed cores of massive stars. No worries, however; these would decay almost immediately into various particles before presenting even the slimmest chance of harming the Earth.

7. Reveal gateways to higher dimensions: unseen paths beyond ordinary space and time. Certain theories justify why gravity is so much weaker than the other natural forces by positing that gravity particles leak into an extra dimension that ordinary matter and light cannot penetrate. Investigators at the LHC will search for evidence of such invisible channels.

8. Unify matter and forces through supersymmetry: a hypothesis asserting that each matter particle has a counterpart in the world of forces, and each force carrier, a companion in the realm of matter. The LHC will search for the least massive superpartners of conventional particles. The verification of supersymmetry would be an extraordinarily important step toward a theory of everything.

9. Predict the ultimate fate of the cosmos: Recent astronomical discoveries have indicated that space is accelerating in its expansion. The nature of any massive particles found at the LHC could help scientists unravel the properties of this dark energy and thereby determine what will ultimately happen to the universe.

10. Inspire new generations: to pursue careers in physics and carry on the search for the ultimate theory of nature. The shining example of discoveries at the LHC would illuminate a path for future scientists to follow.

Browse Photos of the Collider (Click on image to enlarge)


A corner of the Proton Synchrotron device with its bending magnets. Built in the late 1950s, it has since been used for a variety of purposes and now serves as an early stage of the injector system to accelerate protons and ions before they reach the main ring of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Paul Halpern standing on the grounds of CERN in Switzerland. In the right background is the Globe of Science and Innovation, built in 2002 as a symbol of our planet. In the far left background are the Jura Mountains in France. The 17 mile main ring of the LHC lies deep beneath the verdant countryside between the mountains and CERN.

The Linac (linear accelerator) at CERN is another component of the system for accelerating protons and ions before they reach the main ring of the LHC.

A sample cross-section of a beam pipe through which particles travel.

From Publishers Weekly

Halpern (What's Science Ever Done For Us?), professor of physics and mathematics, makes particle physics accessible in this look at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) "and the extraordinary discoveries likely to be made there." Beginning with the philosophers and scientists who shaped our understanding of the universe over centuries, Halpern explains complex topics and theories concisely, frequently drawing on deft analogies: the "fleeting nature of neutrinos is akin to a featherweight, constantly traveling politician... neutrinos never hang around long enough to make enough of an impact to serve as uniters." After tracing a path from Boyle and Newton through Mendeleev, Maxwell, Rutherford and Einstein, Halpern discusses modern discoveries and details the equipment utilized, from cloud chambers to various kinds of particle accelerators. The bulk of the text focuses on particle physics studies from the past four decades, in the U.S. at Fermilab and the costly but uncompleted Superconducting Super Collider, and in Europe at CERN in Switzerland (responsible for the LHC). Halpern makes the search for mysterious particles pertinent and exciting by explaining clearly what we don't know about the universe, and offering a hopeful outlook for future research.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley (August 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470286202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470286203
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,360,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Acclaimed science writer and physicist Dr. Paul Halpern is the author of more than a dozen popular science books, exploring the subjects of space, time, higher dimensions, dark energy, dark matter, exoplanets, particle physics, and cosmology. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright Scholarship, and an Athenaeum Literary Award. A regular contributor to NOVA's "The Nature of Reality" physics blog, he has appeared on numerous radio and television shows including "Future Quest" and "The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special".

Recent books by Paul Halpern include "Edge of the Universe: A Voyage to the Cosmic Horizon and Beyond," a fascinating look at the latest mysteries in cosmology, and "What's the Matter with Pluto? The Story of Pluto's Adventures with the Planet Club," a fun, illustrated children's book about what it means to be a planet.

More information about Paul Halpern's books and other writings can be found at:
phalpern.com

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, compelling and immensely readable August 2, 2009
Format:Hardcover
Strap yourself in and prepare for a mind-expanding journey into the thrills and mysteries of the universe with award-winning physicist and author, Paul Halpern. This book is a gem.

The long-awaited moment when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN goes online has generated a great deal of excitement and (through misinformed press coverage) fear and trepidation. In `Collider' Halpern eloquently explains what the LHC is, how it will work, and what scientists will be looking for when it is operational.

The purpose of the LHC is to recreate the conditions which are thought to have existed less than a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang that birthed our universe. To help readers grasp the enormous potential of the discoveries that could be made, Halpern takes the reader on a thrilling adventure story that traces the footsteps of the scientists whose discoveries have pinpointed the extraordinary forces that created and sustain this planet that we call home.

Peppered with entertaining anecdotes and analogies which clarify the scientific principles, `Collider' is clearly a labour of love for its author. Halpern's highly infectious passion for science transmits itself through every page, and his explanations of the principles lend fuel to the imagination and generate a sense of wonder. The chapters take us on a compelling journey through subjects which include the standard model and the four forces, relativity, supersymmetry, the theory of everything, dark energy and dark matter, black holes, strangelets, wormholes and higher dimensions, describing what the LHC could divulge of these. The book concludes with the future plans for the Super LHC and the International Linear Collider.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By MisterG
Format:Hardcover
I think it is safe to say that CERN's Large Hadron Collider has captured the public's attention. Sadly, judging by what has been in the news, little of that attention has focused on the purpose of the project. Both the science -- and the incredible feat of engineering it took to create the LHC -- take a back seat to the hype. The Collider is not, as some claim, a "Doomsday Machine." Or, as portrayed in Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, a means of harvesting antimatter for use against the Vatican.

As strange as it might seem, the LHC is potentially much more amazing and wonderful than any silly doomsday scenario. And Paul Halpern's Collider will show you why. It is the perfect book to read while waiting for CERN to finally work out the kinks and start pushing particles.

In Collider, Halpern offers a clear and compelling explanation of the science behind high energy physics, and the history behind the creation of the LHC. Then he ties together both of these threads -- the history and the science -- to provide context for the search for the Higgs boson, and what that discovery could mean to our understanding of the universe. Halpern presents an overview of physics in the sort of plain, readable prose that makes you wish somebody had explained it to you this way long ago.

And, yes, he also tackles the claims that high-energy physics will destroy existence. (SPOILER: It won't!)

If you are, like me, awed by science and its practitioners, I think you could have no finer guidebook to the LHC than Paul Halpern's Collider.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Good luck I say to anyone setting out to write a popular science book on particle physics. The concepts are weird, the math is hard; and on publishing timescales there's not a whole lot of new stuff worth talking about.

Moreover, it's a tall order that's less about content and more about the way you tell it. Happily, in `Collider - the search for the world's smallest particles' - Paul Halpern tells it well.

Anchoring the core physics around a theme is helpful: whether it's Brian Greene on string theory or Paul Davies on the search for extra terrestrial life or, as in Halpern's case, the physics, technology and people that have advanced our understanding of the subatomic world.

Collider is a story of impressive people building big machines to smash small particles together to reveal big truths. With CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) limbering up under the Franco-Swiss countryside, the timing couldn't be better.

At 232 pages before the notes, Collider is manageable without being superficial, and has sufficient pace and variety to engage even those for whom memories of high-school science induce a cold sweat (and for whom leptons is just another brand of tea).

Tracts of quantum weirdness interspersed with biographical vignettes and discussions on collider engineering should ensure a broad spectrum of readers stay the distance. Those led out of their depth, however gently, will find delightful pangs of (at least partial) understanding along the way. Personally, the engineer in me found particular joy in the mix of ethereal concept and enabling technology that particle physics, perhaps more than any other field, embodies. Halpern as a physicist clearly enjoys and respects all aspects of the endeavour.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Misleading Title
If you're thinking of buying this book to get an insight into the LHC and its development, walk away now. Read more
Published on September 2, 2011 by EmMar
5.0 out of 5 stars From the Four Fundamental Forces to the Brink of the Theory of...
A book that shows you the way slowly, flanked by three separate introductory segments is poised for demystifying those cursory preliminaries. Read more
Published on August 11, 2011 by D. Wayne Dworsky
2.0 out of 5 stars Much Metaphor, Less Science
The excerpt from the front flap of this book is misleading. More of this book refers to the historical search for smaller and smaller particles and to other detectors, than to the... Read more
Published on July 9, 2010 by Rebecca
4.0 out of 5 stars An Historical Overview
I applaud any new attempt to explain how the world works, particularly those authors brave enough to run right to the cutting edge of our understanding. Read more
Published on June 12, 2010 by J. Brian Watkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, educational and thoroughly enjoyable!
What an immensely comprehensible and well-paced, entertaining read. Paul Halpern draws back the veil of scientific jargon to illustrate the exciting discoveries and history of... Read more
Published on November 16, 2009 by String
4.0 out of 5 stars High Energy Physics for the Scientifically Literate Reader
Paul Halperin's book, Collider, portrays the historic march of discoveries and the theoretical physics leading to the construction of the Large Hadron Collider which is expected to... Read more
Published on November 15, 2009 by Ralph White
3.0 out of 5 stars Good history of the "search", but no visuals
This is a good historical review of the search, but it is all words; a few grainy B&W pics, but I was expecting lots of great pics of the new collider, diagrams, etc. Read more
Published on October 30, 2009 by Bob Buddy
5.0 out of 5 stars A opinion from a reader of Collider
Collider brings you up to date on high energy physics and the reason CERN is the
site of the LHC. In the US the superconducting super collider gets cancelled. Read more
Published on October 9, 2009 by Richard P. Jacobson
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing esoteric physics close to home
Once again Dr. Halpern has managed to take a highly complex subject and help us non-physicists not just understand but appreciate the joy, frustration, and human drama of... Read more
Published on October 1, 2009 by Frederick E. Schuepfer
5.0 out of 5 stars Made the Physics of the collider com alive
Just finished reading Collider. Made the physics come alive, with humor and helpful fun analogies. Besides explaining the inner workings, I thought the writers background... Read more
Published on September 1, 2009 by R. Kessler
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