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Neutrino [Hardcover]

Frank Close
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 9, 2010 0199574596 978-0199574599
Neutrinos are perhaps the most enigmatic particles in the universe. These tiny, ghostly particles are formed by the billions in stars and pass through us constantly, unseen, at almost the speed of light. Yet half a century after their discovery, we still know less about them than all the other varieties of matter that have ever been seen.
In this engaging, concise volume, renowned scientist and popular writer Frank Close gives a vivid account of the discovery of neutrinos and our growing understanding of their significance, also touching on some speculative ideas concerning the possible uses of neutrinos and their role in the early universe. Close begins with the early history of the discovery of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel and Marie and Pierre Curie, the early model of the atom by Ernest Rutherford, and problems with these early atomic models, and Wolfgang Pauli's solution to that problem by inventing the concept of neutrino (named by Enrico Fermi, "neutrino" being Italian for "little neutron"). The book describes how the confirmation of Pauli's theory didn't occur until 1956, when Clyde Cowan and Fred Reines detected neutrinos, and reveals that the first "natural" neutrinos were finally detected by Reines in 1965 (before that, they had only been detected in reactors or accelerators). Close takes us to research experiments miles underground that are able to track neutrinos' fleeting impact as they pass through vast pools of cadmium chloride and he explains why they are becoming of such interest to cosmologists--if we can track where a neutrino originated we will be looking into the far distant reaches of the universe.
In telling the story of the neutrino, Close offers a fascinating portrait of a strand of modern physics that sheds light on everything from the workings of the atom and the power of the sun.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Confronting his colleagues’ failure to explain beta radiation, the revolutionary physicist Wolfang Pauli advanced a “remedy that could seem incredible.” Still, he justified himself in risking implausibility: “Only the one who dares can win.” In this engaging account of epoch-making science, Close chronicles the astonishing consequences of Pauli’s intellectual daring. Readers see how the pioneering analyses of Ernest Rutherford first exposed the impossibility of explaining beta radiation within standard scientific formulas and how Pauli resolved the anomaly by hypothesizing a mysterious subatomic particle, dubbed the “neutrino” by an intrigued Enrico Fermi. But Pauli’s brainchild left theorists skeptical and empiricists frustrated, as they repeatedly failed in their attempts to observe the particle. Refreshingly lucid writing gives general readers access to the exciting events that finally established the reality of the neutrino while opening stunning new perspectives on the origins of the cosmos. This access not only clarifies the complex science of bosons and muons but also illuminates the cross-grained humanity of Bruno Pontecorvo, the forgotten genius whose uncanny predictions about multiflavored neutrinos have, one by one, found verification, and Ray Davis, the stubbornly determined investigator of neutrinos born of solar fusion. A striking reminder that brilliant minds can penetrate the narrowest of narrow places. --Bryce Christensen


"A skilled physicist, Mr. Close tells this story with verve and precision. His writing is admirably clear and eminently accessible.In a short compass, Mr. Close gives the reader a solid account of both the scientists involved and their crucial findings."
Wall Street Journal

"A cracking detective story...a highly-recommended book."
Science File

"A fine piece of scientific popularisation from one of the best scientific communicators around."
Literary Review

"Overall I much enjoyed reading Neutrino...and I would recommend it as an excellent introduction to the subject." -- A. Baha Balantekin, University of Wisconsin Madison

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (December 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199574596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199574599
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #603,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What mad pursuit... January 9, 2011
These days we are all excited about the Higgs boson, but as Frank Close reminds us in his lucid and comprehensive yet succinct book, the real heroic efforts in particle physics of the twentieth century were in pursuing and hunting down the elusive neutrino. The neutrino is copiously produced by solar processes and every second billions of neutrinos astonishingly pass through our bodies, yet the particle has no charge and for a long time was postulated to have no mass, which made its detection difficult to put it mildly.

Close documents the initial theoretical efforts by Wolfgang Pauli, Enrico Fermi and others to explain atomic processes like beta decay by invoking the neutrino. But the real heroes in the story are the experimentalists who spent their entire careers and gambled their scientific lives in dogged pursuit of this ghost particle. It was Bruno Pontecorvo, a protege of Fermi who realized that one could set up chlorine tanks near nuclear reactors to detect the existence of neutrinos. Pontecorvo also proposed other creative and theoretical ideas to capture and analyze neutrinos. He certainly deserved and would probably have won a Nobel Prize had he lived long enough and not defected to the Soviet Union. After Pontecorvo, the great modern heroes of the neutrino story are Raymond Davis and John Bahcall who spent their lives making heroic efforts to nail down the identity of Fermi's "little neutral one". Davis read Pontecorvo's paper in the early 50s and decided to set up an ambitious experiment with a chlorine tank several kilometers underground in an abandoned mine. The location was necessary to shield out other radiation from cosmic rays and capture only neutrinos, which being massless can travel virtually unimpeded through the earth.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Trapping the Ghost Particle January 29, 2011
We don't find it at all odd that photons, particles of light, should pass right through glass. Transparency is a property, though, that not all matter has, so the photons stop somewhere, and light up objects for us to see. It is peculiar, though, to think that other particles might find you and me transparent, or in fact shoot through the whole Earth (or anything else) as easily as photons go through glass. Such particles indeed exist. Neutrinos weigh almost nothing (gather 100,000 of them and you might outweigh an electron) and they have no charge, but they go almost as fast as light through matter as if it were not there, that is, they don't interact with whatever they are passing through. They have been called "ghost particles," but they are far more common than any spooks. According to _Neutrino_ (Oxford University Press) by physicist Frank Close, there are more neutrinos than there are electrons or any other subatomic particle. And they zip all around; something like forty million of them shoot through your eyeballs every second. Reading Close's book is a good introduction to a very peculiar particle, and to many allied themes in physics and cosmology. Be warned, however, that this is all so unlike the Newtonian physics and the high school chemistry with which you may be familiar that much of what Close describes is going to remain mysterious. As a tale about the hunt for the neutrino, and the tenacious researchers who lassoed the ghost, Close's brief book is a pleasing story about scientific success. Read more ›
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Close to perfection December 29, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Frank Close can explain anything and everything. And make it interesting if not downright fascinating. On the surface, neutrinos are a very technical subject that should be beyond most people's skills. Frank Close turned the search for the nuetrino into a excellent who-did-what-and-when. I highly recommend this book.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Light pun intended! May 6, 2011
Sadly, Brian Greene has spoilt me when it comes to science writing. Frank Close is OK, but not in the same league, at least not in this short story about the prediction and discovery of natures elusive neutrino.

There's around 166 pages but that includes a lot of repetition and rehashing so it kind of dragged on a bit. Oh, and there's a LOT of "see my other book" stuff going on which I get, the guy needs to make a living, but I found it too "look at me, look at me" and that was distracting.

But the main gripe I had with "Neutrino" is that it essentially stopped without really imparting how neutrino's having mass, albeit slight, and being able to change type worries away at the cherished standard theory that physicists hang their hat on these days. The brilliance of Pauli, the genius of Pontecorvo and the determination of Davis deserved to be told, but the implications, now that's the real story. And for me Close did not drive that home.

So, it was an OK read on a long flight from Johannesburg to Sydney, but it did not make me want to rush out and buy his other recent books Antimatter or Nothing: A Very Short Introduction.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Dense and Light
Like a neutrino beam this book is both dense and light at the same time. Obviously written for the educated layperson it explains in exquisite details the mechanics behind the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Normand Hamel
3.0 out of 5 stars Thorough but dry
Very detailed account of the "invention" then discovery of the Neutrino that captures something of the complexity of the subject and the process of doing blue-sky science. Read more
Published 1 month ago by JimB_61
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writer!
Just finished Neutrino and was very impressed. Total "thumbs up"! Frank Close writes in an historical account that through the recitation provides and encapsulated quick... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Henry Selvey
4.0 out of 5 stars good work
highlights the aspects of this criticle aspect of science and explains the whole concept in a very simple and easy manner so as to enable a layman to understand this complex part... Read more
Published 5 months ago by mohit bhat
5.0 out of 5 stars Great introductory book on neutrinos
Well explained how have scientists worked for neutrinos so far,
Although recent efforts and results from reactor experiments are missing, it is a great introductory book on... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Myoung Youl Pac
5.0 out of 5 stars Neutrinos, Trillions Pass Through Your Body every Second!
The Mystical Quantum world has far more fascinating stories to tell than the wildest intrigue a human mind can imagine. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Busy Bee
5.0 out of 5 stars The Neutrino not everywhere
Even though Neutrinos are ubiquitous, now you can have them all in one place. Neutrino has the whole story. Read more
Published 11 months ago by David R. Criser
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
Great book. I learned a lot about neutrinos. If you like science give it a shot. You will be happy you did.
Published 13 months ago by Jeff
5.0 out of 5 stars Monumental Scientific Achievements and Brutally Hard Work
Having spent more than a couple of decades in the Nuclear Industry long ago, I have always been fascinated by Nuclear Physics but had not been keeping up with progress in particle... Read more
Published 16 months ago by DuWayne Morris
5.0 out of 5 stars "It is not even wrong"!
It is a great detective story well told. I had no idea about how important neutrino astronomy had become considering the poor efficiency of the detectors, and I am a amateur... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Amazon Customer
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