on July 4, 2012
I purchased the Kindle-fire version of this book and comsumed it in one reading. I have been following the story of Quantum Mechanics since taking grad school courses at UCLA in 1969. As an Engineer who worked in the integrated circuit industry for over thirty years I had a keen interest in understanding the physics of the solid state and the forces that allow us, as humans, to think about our origins, from star stuff after the big bang. Dr. Mee has written a book that provides a clear, readable history of the development of the progress of those who worked to unravel the story of Quantum Mechanics. The book is both a history and the best and simplest explanation of how the physics came to define The Standard Model. With the most recent announcement from CERN of the confirmation that the Higgs Boson is real, the final chapter in the Standard Model can be written. Once it was thought that an aether was needed as a medium through which waves of light could propagate. Then light was found to have strange behavior acting as though it were a particle, the Photon. The aether was disproven by the Michelson-Morely experiment, leaving physicists to ponder how a wave/particle could propagate through space-time without a medium. The Higgs Force by Nicholas Mee provides a clear understanding of how the Higgs Boson interacts with other Quantum Mechancial particles to provide the feature known as Mass. The Book works to enlighten the lay reader and those with some background in physics as to how the Higgs Field interacts with other particles and seems to bring us full circle back to a field interacting with particles that exhibit mass and allowing the massless photon to pass through the Higgs field without any interaction, thus no mass. I highly recommend this book to those who want to understand how the science got to this point and meet some of the pioneers who helped to define Quantum Mechanics and the development of the Standard Model. A great book to start your search for how the universe came to be.
on November 23, 2012
"The arrival of the Higgs opens a new door onto the ultimate structure of the universe, offering the possibility of exploring a completely new regime of physics beyond the Standard Model."
Nicholas Mee: Higgs Force: Cosmic Symmetry Shattered
In his splendid "Higgs Force" British Physicist Nicholas Mee draws a distinction between the few "High Priests of Particle Physics" who understand its mysteries "hidden behind a veil of abstract and subtle mathematics" and the rest of us Homo Sapiens. Fortunately Mee promises to draw back the veil of secrecy and reveal them to us all, and he succeeds admirably. Already in his introduction Mee explores several critical questions posed by non-scientists: How the perfect symmetry of the Big Bang disintegrated within milliseconds, and the original force split into three separate forces which now dominate our existence. Mees writes ominously, "We are composed of the ash from the nuclear furnaces that roared at the hearts of previous generations of stars." In a word, we, each of us, the Empire State building, the Himalayas, are all "star dust." Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, as is written. It is, however, only in the past few decades that physicists successfully understood the process, and that's what Mee explains.
Like most books of this genre, Mee begins with a historical review of the development of particle physics, describing step-by-step how we got to the Higgs. Johannes Kepler saw symmetrical shapes in snowflakes and realized that this was due to the regular arrangement of the atoms from which they are formed--a remarkable insight considering this was almost 300 years before the existence of atoms was established. While playing cards Russian chemist Dmitriy Mendelyev grasps how elements can be organized into a Periodic Table, a tabular display based on chemical properties derived from the atomic number, giving contemporary physics an enormous boost. James Clarke Maxwell recognized the similarity between electricity and magnetism and as a result we have electric motors, computers and IPhones. Many scientists were not just geniuses but geuine characters as well. Julian Schwinger was ambidextrous and could write two complex equations on the chalkboard at the same time faster than anybody watching could understand either one. Richard Feynman sat up overnight to produce a successful refutation of an equation just defended vehemently by the most eminent nuclear physicist of the age, Robert Oppenheimer.
Some readers may feel overwhelmed by the considerable detail Mee offers but serious students will find a great cache of valuable information. Mee does a particularly good job of describing some of the most basic factors in contemporary physics, including the invaluable Standard Model, from which the existence of the Higgs Boson was first theorized. He offers an exhaustive overview of the three main forces, including how the strong and weak (and electromagnetism) forces relate. He describes gravity as best one can given the paucity of current knowledge.
As the title indicates, for Mee symmetry is absolutely central to an understanding of the particle structure of the universe. This is not easy to explain, given the many twists and turns in the concept. Yet, for all the beauty of symmetry, "if the universe displayed this perfect symmetry for its entirety, it would be completely unchanging, formless and barren." There would be no particles, no matter, no us. The Higgs is responsible for the symmetry-breaking which made particles-and the universe--possible.
From symmetry it's an easy step to Quantum Mechanics. Although great progress was made in describing the Rutherford atom, further analysis showed it would be stable for only an extremely brief time. This led to the development of Quantum Mechanics, "the biggest revolution in physics in 250 years", writes Mee. It required a near complete reinterpretation, led by Max Planck and Neils Bohr, of Newton and Maxwell. Mee builds to confirmation of the Higgs with a detailed description of the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, a mechanical and electrical work of genius. The LHC accelerates protons to enormously high speeds before slamming them together and creating other particles and decay debris. Non-scientists may be surprised to learn that detecting the newly-created particles is as great a challenge as making them, and requires an equally huge mechanism (the ATLAS, which is what's shown in most photos, not the accelerator itself). Mee continues step by step in describing the central role of the Higgs boson, in the Higgs field, in giving mass to all elementary particles.
The name "Higgs" entered the popular lexicon on 4 July, 2012, when the "High Priests of Particle Physics" announced at CERN that the LHC had confirmed its existence. Sensational as it was, however, Higgs does not unveil all the universe's secrets. The LHC must now probe why particles have different masses. A major focus as the LHC returns to operation in 2015 with its power doubled (to 14 TeV) will be to explain why so much of the matter in the universe is invisible, hence earning the name dark matter and energy. The ultimate driving force, of course, remains as it did when Albert Einstein searched in vain for his Unified Field Theory (now GUT-Grand Unified Theory) the single theory explaining everything about the universe. Supersymmetry, which posits that for every particle and anti-particle there's a "supersymmetric" partner much more massive, is one cutting edge direction. Even more far-reaching is the widely popular String Theory, which rather than viewing particles as points of energy, describes matter as one-dimensional strings, which create particles through different modes of vibration. Today these names are as esoteric as Higgs was just weeks ago, but in "Higgs Force" author Mee offers a systematic introduction to the future for serious readers.