45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will-o'-the-wisp around 5 sigma: the hunting of the Higgs
"Mr. Hunter, we have rules that are not open to interpretation, personal intuition, gut feelings, hairs on the back of your neck, little devils or angels sitting on your shoulder...." - Capt. Ramsey ('Crimson Tide')
Particle physicists hunting for maddeningly elusive particles sometimes must feel like Mr. Hunter from the movie "Crimson Tide". The quarries which...
Published on November 18, 2010 by A. Jogalekar
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This book is only a documentary
I purchased this in order to learn about the Higg's mechanism, but only walked away with a history lesson.
This book is only a documentary about the history leading up to the concepts behind the theoretical Higg's Boson. This book was written prior to the announcement made by the CERN research labs on July 4, 2012, which pointed out the discovery of new boson...
Published 7 months ago by S. Sacek
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will-o'-the-wisp around 5 sigma: the hunting of the Higgs,
This review is from: Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science (Hardcover)"Mr. Hunter, we have rules that are not open to interpretation, personal intuition, gut feelings, hairs on the back of your neck, little devils or angels sitting on your shoulder...." - Capt. Ramsey ('Crimson Tide')
Particle physicists hunting for maddeningly elusive particles sometimes must feel like Mr. Hunter from the movie "Crimson Tide". The quarries which they are trying to mine seem so ephemeral, making their presence known in events with such slim probability margins, victims of nature's capricious dance of energy and matter, that intuition must sometimes seem as important as data. The hunt for such particles signifies some of the most intense efforts in extruding reality from nature's womb that human beings have ever put in.
No other particle exemplifies this uniquely human of all endeavors than the so-called Higgs boson. The man who bears the burden of imparting it its name is now a household name himself. Yet as the history of science often demonstrates, the real story is both more interesting and more complicated. It involves intense competition involving billions of dollars and thousands of careers of a kind rarely seen in science, and stories of glories and follies befitting the great tragedies. In his book "Massive", Ian Sample does a marvelous job of bringing this history to life.
Sample excels at three things. The first is the story of the two great laboratories that have mainly been involved in the race to the finish in discovering nature's building blocks- Fermilab and CERN. CERN was started in the 60s to give a boost to European physics after World War 2. Fermilab was lovingly built by the experimental physicist Robert Wilson, a former member of the Manhattan Project who was a first-rate amateur architect and saw accelerators as aesthetic things of beauty. Secondly, Sample does a nice job of explaining the reasons that led to the construction of these machines, the most complicated that mankind has ever constructed. Only human beings would put billions of dollars and immense manpower on the line purely for the purpose of satisfying man's curiosity of plumbing the depths of nature's deepest secrets. Sample also lays out the very human and social concerns that accompany such investigations. Lastly, Sample was lucky enough to get an extended interview with Peter Higgs, a shy man who very rarely does interviews. Higgs grew up in Scotland idolizing Paul Dirac and shared Dirac's view of a unifying beauty that would connect nature's disparate facts. In the late 1960s he wrote papers describing what is now called the Higgs boson. The papers were well-accepted in the US and Higgs's name soon began to be bandied about in seminars and meetings. As described below however, Higgs was not the only one postulating the theory.
So what exactly is the Higgs boson? A complete understanding would naturally need a background in theoretical physics, but the best analogy for the layman was given by a British physicist. Imagine a room full of young women who are happily chatting. In walks a handsome young man. As long as he is not noticed he can move freely across the room, but as soon as the young women spot him they cluster around him, impeding his movement. It's as though the young man has become heavier and has acquired mass from the "field" of women surrounding him. The Higgs then is the particle that imparts specific masses to all the other myriad particles discovered so far including quarks and leptons through its own field. It should be evident why it's important. The Higgs would be the crowning achievement in the Standard Model of particle physics which encompasses all particles and forced known until now except gravity.
However, the history of the Higgs particle is complicated. Sample does a great job of explaining why the credit belongs to six different people who reached the same conclusion that Higgs did. It seems that Higgs was not the first to publish, but he was the first one to clearly state the existence of a new particle. However, the most comprehensive theory of the Higgs field and particle came out later. If Nobel Prizes are to be awarded, it's not at all clear what three people should be picked, although Higgs's name seems obvious. The sociology of scientific discovery is as important as the facts and again illustrates that science is a much more haphazard and random process than is believed.
The search for the Higgs gathered tremendous momentum in the 80s and 90s. It intensified after accelerator laboratories spectacularly discovered two particles named the W and Z bosons that are responsible for mediating the electromagnetic and weak interactions (the electroweak force). These particles were predicted by Steven Weinberg, Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow in the 60s, and their prediction surely ranks as one of the greatest theoretical successes in modern physics. Once the theory predicted the masses of these particles, they were up for grabs. No experimentalist worth his or her salt would fail to relish nailing a concrete theoretical prediction of fundamental importance through a decisive experiment. Sample captures the pulse-quickening inter-Atlantic races to find these particles especially between CERN and Fermilab. The importance of these particles was so obvious that Nobel Prizes came in quick succession both to the theorists and the experimentalists. However the existence of the Higgs is also essential for the successful formulation of the electroweak theory, and signatures of the Higgs are thought to be produced whenever W and Z bosons are created. It again becomes obvious why finding the Higgs is so important; its existence would validate all those successes and Nobel Prizes, whereas a failure to find it would entail a stunningly hard look at some of particle physics's most fundamental notions.
These days the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is all over the news. Yet the most exciting part of Sample's book describes not the LHC but the Large Electron Positron collider (LEP) at CERN which was the largest particle accelerator in the world at the time. Unlike protons, electrons and positrons are fundamental particles and crashing them together produces 'cleaner' results. There were some fascinating events associated with the LEP. The behemoth's circumference was 27 kilometers and it crisscrossed the Swiss-French border, so authorities had to seek permission to build the accelerator underneath some homes. It seems that French law is special just like their cheese and language; apparently if you build a house in France, it means that you own the entire ground beneath the house, all the way to the center of the earth. Suffice it to say that some negotiation with the homeowners was necessary to secure permission for underground construction. At one point the intensity of the beams inside the mammoth machine started to wax and wane. After many days of brainstorming a scientist had a hunch; it turns out that the the gravity of the moon and the sun sets up tides inside the crust of the earth. These tides put the calibration of the machine off by a millimeter, too small to be noticed by human beings, but thunderingly large for electron beams. In another case, the daily departure of a train from a nearby station sent surges of electricity into the ground and affected the beams. It seems like when you are building an accelerator you have to guard against the workings of the entire solar system.
The story of particle physics is also fraught with tragedies. One of the biggest described in the book was the construction of the Superconducting Supercollider in Texas. The SSC was supposed to be the answer to CERN and got enthusiastic backing from Reagan and Bush Sr. Unfortunately the budget spiraled out of hand, the infighting intensified, congressmen remained unconvinced and the collider never got built in spite of spending billions and affecting thousands of careers of scientists who had relocated. The fiasco just proved that public support for even projects like the LHC is never a sure thing, and scientists don't always excel at public relations.
Then of course there are all the doomsday scenarios and concerns which were raised about the LHC, from the formation of black holes to the world ending in myriad other ways. As Sample describes, these concerns go back to an accelerator at Brookhaven National Laboratory which would impact large gold ions together at furious velocities. The would-be Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek raised the theoretical yet vanishingly small probability of forming 'strangelets', entities akin to the fictitious substance 'Ice-9' in Kurt Vonnegut's novel 'Cat's Cradle'. These strangelets would coalesce together matter around themselves and form a superstable form of dead matter that would rapidly engulf the entire planet. The concern about strangelets pales in comparison however to the possibility of 'vacuum decay', in which our universe is thought to be in a perfectly happy but metastable state like a vase on a table. All it takes is a little nudge or a massive kick from a high-energy particle collision in our case to dislodge the vase or universe from its metastable state into a stable state of minimum energy. Gratifyingly, not only would this state mean the end of life as we know it but it would also mean the impossibility of life ever arising. Yes, all these scenarios seem straight out of the drug-induced, overactive imagination of a demented mind, but at least some of them are within the realm of theoretical possibility. Unfortunately when the result is the destruction of the planet, the words "improbable" and "vanishingly small" will never do much to assuage the public's fears. It just indicates that physicists will always have to grapple with public relations issues vastly more complex than the LHC.
Finally, we get a fascinating overview of the kinds of things which scientists hope to see in the LHC. The problem is that the generation of particles like the Higgs is a very low-probability event and is usually only a side-product of some other primary event. The situation is made more complicated by the immense difficulty of observing such fleeting glimpses in a hideously complex background of noise generated by the creation of other particles. Scientists working on these projects have to keep their eyes and instruments peeled for the one in a trillion event that may bring them glory. Whenever an event is observed, the scientists have to calculate the realm of probability in which it belongs. Usually if the event is outside five standard deviations ('5 sigma') then it is extremely likely to be real and not have occurred by chance alone. Not surprisingly, the observation and communication of these events is a tortuous thing. Publicity has to be avoided before you confirm such fleeting bits of probability, but leaks inevitably offer. And the media has seldom shown any restraint in announcing such potentially momentous discoveries which would bring glory, prizes and money to their originators. Scientists working today also have to deal with the presence of blogs and other instant communication conduits. As Sample narrates, at least in one case a physicist at CERN posted preliminary LHC results on the blog Cosmic Variance, and all hell broke loose. Scientists have to tread carefully especially in this era of instant data dissemination.
All this makes the scientists engaged in such endeavors live on the edge, and to us they appear like the explorers who have their eyes peeled to the sky looking out for the stray signal that would announce the presence of extraterrestrials. The mathematics of the Higgs boson is of course much more sound than that of alien contact, but the scientists who are looking for it are hanging on to such flimsy wisps of probability and interpretation that they surely must be questioning their own sanity sometimes.
In the end, even physicists are all too human. As Capt. Ramsey says, our rules are not always subject to little devils and angels sitting on our shoulders. And yet it seems that scientists like the Higgs hunters sometimes would be tempted to trust the hairs on the back of their head, especially when those hairs stand up straight at the glimpse of a peak in the graph, that 5-sigma event which would change everything. Maybe, just maybe.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Read,
This review is from: Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science (Hardcover)Great book on a timely topic that is hard to write for general public. If you are looking for a book to explain what all the fuss is over the "God Particle" this is the one to read. Dr. Sample does a great job of bringing together the history, theory, and experimental aspects of the mass mechanism for everyone to understand. Everyone reads about the LHC and finding the "Higgs Boson" but little is written about the history and how this came to be.
It is a quick read and flows well with antidotes about the people involved that are pulled out through extensive interviews and research. Certainly there will be an updated version of this once the results are confirmed from Fermi or LHC and Nobels are awarded - along with the associated controversies.
Strengths of the book include:
1) Well written and easy to read
2) Quick read
3) Handles tough topic for non-physicist
4) Sets up well for next edition
5) Well researched with great interviews of subjects (Weinberg for example)
While the book is very Peter Higgs' centric in chapters three and four that probably makes sense given the name of the boson and need for the story to focus on someone. The years that Higgs spend after the 1964 papers toiling with an extension and defending the findings were interesting while the other theorists moved on to other work in the USA and Belgium. Higgs was not actually the first to work on this since Guralnik and Hagen were working with Gilbert on the issue well before 1964. But overall the book is a great overview of the theory work that is not often shared.
I am looking forward to how the story ends outside of the book, the USA edition, and the certain versions from Dr. Sample that will follow.
Great book. Great effort.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Scalar Boson,
This review is from: Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science (Hardcover)Perhaps the scientists aren't yet convinced that the Higgs boson exists, but the publishing world has no doubts. Massive is yet another entry in an increasingly crowded shelf of general science offerings devoted to explaining to those of us who couldn't finish Calculus precisely why billions of dollars and hundreds (thousands?) of scientific careers are being devoted to a single machine. Pity the author who must devote over half of his book to explaining background; however, Dr. Sample's talents are admirably suited to the task. He has the reporter's instinct for a good story and the dry wit to spice up a tale that in the wrong hands could take one back to a tedious high school science lecture--anyone? anyone?
In a field populated by authors who are explicating their own discoveries, Dr. Sample brings the unique perspective of a real journalist. Avoiding an overly detailed recitation, Dr. Sample brings a refreshing brevity to the tale. He manages to find the examples of human frustration, pique and ambition that make any story worth reading. But, that aside, I felt the first glimmer of understanding of what Dr. Higgs actually figured out. Sure, I may be more dim than the average reviewer, but I have read several books on the recent developments in particle physics (general offerings all) and the opening chapters of this book were the best at explaining the nature of the question, i.e. where does mass come from. This is also the only offering, thus far, that lends an entire chapter to the media-fueled hype over the issue of the dangers presented by high-energy colliders, which provides a fine commentary on the state of modern science education and societal tolerance for pure research.
To be honest, even though Massive does a great job of explication--as to the science, I haven't really got a clue. One needs mathematics to fully understand the Standard Model and it is to be hoped that the publishing boom in general science will continue to inspire new generations of scientists to avoid law school. However, to harp on the science misses the point entirely. This was an entertaining and informative telling of an important story that will no doubt become front page news when somebody somewhere publishes the big news that they have found the Higgs particle.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Find out the history of particle physics and where it stands today,
1. You'll get a good idea of where particle physics stands today (2011) and where it is headed.
2. You'll learn some of the history of particle physics and physics in general--the theory, the experiments, and the people--along the way.
3. Despite the kid who published the same 1 star review 3 times (hopefully he fixes that as this book is not deserving of such a poor review, particularly since it was the kid's error in choosing the wrong book), you will learn some physics along the way. Even better, you learn it in its historical context, as a story.
4. The book is well written. This is to say it is clear, easy to follow, even captivating.
This book is not a detailed exposition of the Standard Model or of particle physics. If that is what you are looking for, this is not it (you might try "Introduction to Elementary Particles" by David Griffiths for a place to start). If however you are interested in 1-4 above, particularly as they pertain to the Higgs Boson, you'll enjoy this book.
Well done to the author!
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Massively Intoxicating,
The Higgs boson is allegedly the final particle missing from the "Standard Model," which is the model of particle physics and a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. It was developed in the early and mid-20th century and to the present upon confirmation of the existence of quarks, discovery of the bottom quark, the top quark and the tau neutrino. It is NOT a theory of everything--even if the Higgs boson is discovered. To date the Standard model includes 24 fundamental building blocks of nature and the Higgs boson is the only one missing (assuming one believes the particle exists--another issue in the book).
The second prerequisite before unpacking the Higgs mechanism is highlighting the importance of the fundamental forces as they relate to the Higgs mechanism. Of special import is the unification, by Steve Weinberg, of the electromagnetic force and the weak force into the `electroweak force' which, according to Massive, existed in the early universe as it expanded and cooled until pulling apart and creating two of the four fundamental forces named above. Moreover, this is built around the Higgs mechanism as Weinberg argues that it is the Higgs field that is responsible for pulling the electromagnetic and weak forces apart. The Higgs field splits the electroweak force in two by making the two W and the Z particles "heavy" while leaving photons massless and weightless. (As a side note, Weinberg's theory predicted 3 new kinds of particles named two W (for "weak") particles and one Z (which has no electrical charge) boson particle.
Massive is about the Higgs mechanism (Higgs field and Higgs boson) that allegedly give rise to the mass of all the elementary particles (or most particles) in the Standard Model. That is to say, the primary thesis of the book is to unpack the nature and purpose of the Higgs mechanism, and the remaining chapters about all of collaterally related issues stemming from the theory, including possibilities for physics if the Higgs particle is located. The Higgs mechanism is summarized and unpacked many times throughout the book, which makes it easy to compare the content of subsequent chapters with the initial theory.
What is the initial theory behind the Higgs boson? Peter Higgs read a paper regarding the Higgs mechanism through reviewing different papers that posited the idea that particle masses may be the result of broken symmetry. The first was written by physicist Yoichiro Nambu who wrote an article on how elementary particles acquire their mass, and Nambu toyed with the idea of broken symmetry creating massless particles. However, Nambu's worked did do much aside from planning a seed in Peter Higgs regarding broken symmetry, although Nambu did win the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics for work on broken symmetry (and the book has a fantastic breakdown of symmetry, the types of symmetry and supersymmetry). Regarding Nambu's idea of providing mass to particles via broken symmetry failed for the reason that it created massless particles during the symmetry-breaking phase for reasons that go beyond the scope of this review. However, this put Higgs on the right track with his idea. In short, Higgs figured out the flaw in Nambu's paper.
A brief outline of Higgs theory is on page 8 of the book, which states in relevant part that in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang, the elementary particles were entirely massless. In a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, an energy field that permeated the universe switched on (the location of the Higgs field is somewhat mysterious as it is hidden in the vacuum of space and it is difficult to see because it does not vary from place to place, unlike gravity). Massless particles that had been zipping around at near the speed of light [(c)} were caught in the field and became massive; hence, the title--Massive. The more strongly they felt the effects of the field, the more massive they became. This is the simplicity of the Higgs mechanism is beautifully portrayed in this first introduction. The energy field represents the Higgs field. In quantum field theory, the force carrying particle for the Higgs field is a particle named the Higgs boson. The particles that did not have mass gained mass once they interacted with the Higgs field, and the heavier particles are the ones that felt the Higgs field more than other particles--all of which is unpacked in later chapters.
The book is fantastic in that it lays out the overwhelming effect the Higgs mechanism has had on particle physics and other areas. There are 11 chapters, which are as follows:
Chapter 1 - Long Road to Princeton
Chapter 2 - Shadow of the Bomb
Chapter 3 - Seventy-Nine Lines
Chapter 4 - The Enchanted Prince
Chapter 5 - An Earnest Revenge
Chapter 6 - Reagan's Renegade
Chapter 7 - Massive Maggie
Chapter 8 - The End Is Not Nigh
Chapter 9 - The Gordian Knot
Chapter 10 - Chasing the Wind
Chapter 11 - Hidden World
Remember that you are going to obtain information, laid out in simple fashion, that makes this book an incredible read. Chapter 1 lays out a general overview that sets the stage for the remainder of the book. Chapter 2 deals with electromagnetic waves, the story of the ether, field theory, and classical theories leading up to quanta, and then leading up to an explanation of quantum mechanics versus quantum physics. The chapter unpacks Einstein to Bohr (or GTR to QM) until we get to the dropping of the bombs on Japan and descriptions thereof, including reactions from the scientists. The descriptions of the classical and quantum are read with relative ease and they are captivating.
Chapter 3 is directly on the issues and physics surrounding Higgs mechanism, and the 79-lines represent Higgs theory and is specifically about a paper that unpacks a flaw in a physicist named Wally Gilbert, whose argument would have undermine Higgs theory. The 79-line paper corrected this issue and vindicates Higgs theory about particles and mass. Chapter 4 is about three different groups of men trying to obtain the secret to the Higgs boson, and also presents alternate views that explain the behavior of particles in the context of the origin of mass, but by utilizing what are called S-matrixes. It is here that we get Steve Weinberg's unification of the electroweak force and an introduction to a host of many issues in quantum mechanics and particle physics. Chapter 5 shows how the Higgs ultimately leads to the creation of CERN and Fermilab, and the race between the two laboratories to try and locate the infamous particle. This theme is revisited later throughout the book. Chapter 6 deals with the problem of governmental support for science, and the Fermilab in general. Again, however, this is written in a prose that never bores the reader. Chapter 7 follows chapter 6 in that money is a difficult commodity for science that seems obscure to the government and the public square in general. There are stories of vandalism and explosions at CERN and Fermilab, and a fantastic unpacking of Guth's inflationary view and an endnote/book that argues for the possibility of the Higgs mechanism being the basis for inflation.
Chapter 8 is the doomsday chapter that lays out numerous concerns about the creation of black holes and other particles/scenarios that could possibly destroy the earth as a result of particle collisions. This is a fascinating chapter and the remaining chapters and their respective content I will leave to the reader. The point is that, contrary to your background knowledge in physics, quantum physics, and Lederman's "the God Particle," you cannot pass this book by as there are too many concepts that one does not normally locate in such an easy and eloquent manner. Buy this book for your library. Pull out your highlighters and pens as you will not be able to put this book down.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This book is only a documentary,
This review is from: Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science (Paperback)I purchased this in order to learn about the Higg's mechanism, but only walked away with a history lesson.
This book is only a documentary about the history leading up to the concepts behind the theoretical Higg's Boson. This book was written prior to the announcement made by the CERN research labs on July 4, 2012, which pointed out the discovery of new boson with an even-numbered spin. Although the researchers didn't go as far as to say they discovered the Higg's Boson, they were quite clear that it was indeed a boson, and that more testing was needed before they could say with absolute certainty that it was the particle predicted by the 'Standard Model'. This book makes no mention of the latest LHC research results, and as far as I am concerned, it is irrelevant to the book in general.
The author is a good writer, and a good story teller, but as far as I can tell he is not a physicist, but rather only a historian on this subject matter.
What you will learn in this book is all the names of the scientists over the centuries whose work has played a role leading up to the theoretical ideas behind the Higg's Force. You will learn their names, where they were born, where they worked, who they worked with, what prizes they were awarded, what they ate, and who they slept with. But what you will not learn about is the science behind the Higg's force.
If what you want is only to learn about this subject at a 500-meter bird's eye view; not going into any scientific details, then this book is probably for you. Otherwise stay away it, as you will be disappointed like I was.
There are other books out there which do go into detail that you might be interested in. One of them is by an actual PhD particle physicist named Nicholas Mee, and his book is titled: "HIGGS FORCE - Cosmic Symmetry Shattered". He is also a good story teller, and his book is written for non-scientists. You can find it here:
Higgs Force - Cosmic Symmetry Shattered
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You learn a lot more about physicists than about physics,
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Massive is... just that. Massive with information about the subatomic world.,
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars well researched, engaging - watch the LHC for more,
Sample's writing and excellent `Notes' section compensate for the lack of illustrations, just. The success of the book definitely stems from his consultation with key players, almost all of whom are still living. While such a book cannot pretend to explain the physical theory, Sample identifies resources that can. Best of all, the reader will be up to date to watch history being made, or not, by the work at the Large Hadron Collider.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended for general-interest and science collections alike!,
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Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science by Ian Sample (Hardcover - November 2, 2010)
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