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Present at the Creation: The Story of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider [Hardcover]

Amir D. Aczel
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 5, 2010 0307591670 978-0307591678 Stated 1st Edition
The Large Hadron Collider is the biggest, and by far the most powerful, machine ever built. A project of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, its audacious purpose is to re-create, in a 16.5-mile-long circular tunnel under the French-Swiss countryside, the immensely hot and dense conditions that existed some 13.7 billion years ago within the first trillionth of a second after the fiery birth of our universe. The collider is now crashing protons at record energy levels never created by scientists before, and it will reach even higher levels by 2013. Its superconducting magnets guide two beams of protons in opposite directions around the track. After accelerating the beams to 99.9999991 percent of the speed of light, it collides the protons head-on, annihilating them in a flash of energy sufficient—in accordance with Einstein’s elegant statement of mass-energy equivalence, E=mc2—to coalesce into a shower of particles and phenomena that have not existed since the first moments of creation. Within the LHC’s detectors, scientists hope to see empirical confirmation of key theories in physics and cosmology.

In telling the story of what is perhaps the most anticipated experiment in the history of science, Amir D. Aczel takes us inside the control rooms at CERN at key moments when an international team of top researchers begins to discover whether this multibillion-euro investment will fulfill its spectacular promise. Through the eyes and words of the men and women who conceived and built CERN and the LHC—and with the same clarity and depth of knowledge he demonstrated in the bestselling Fermat’s Last Theorem—Aczel enriches all of us with a firm grounding in the scientific concepts we will need to appreciate the discoveries that will almost certainly spring forth when the full power of this great machine is finally unleashed.

Will the Higgs boson make its breathlessly awaited appearance, confirming at last the Standard Model of particles and their interactions that is among the great theoretical achievements of twentieth-century physics? Will the hidden dimensions posited by string theory be revealed? Will we at last identify the nature of the dark matter that makes up more than 90 percent of the cosmos? With Present at the Creation, written by one of today’s finest popular interpreters of basic science, we can all follow the progress of an experiment that promises to greatly satisfy the curiosity of anyone who ever concurred with Einstein when he said, “I want to know God’s thoughts—the rest is details.”

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dan Brown fans and science buffs alike will be familiar with CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research), where scientists probe the origins of our universe using the largest and most powerful machine ever created, the Large Hadron Collider. In the hands of Aczel (The Cave and the Cathedral), a research fellow at Boston University, truth is more compelling than fiction. He describes CERN's ongoing research to find "the last particle needed to confirm the validity of Standard Model of particle physics" and discover the answer to how the universe got its mass. The LHC can accelerate protons up to the very edge of the speed of light; by smashing two beams of accelerated protons together, scientists hope to solve the mystery of what happened in the first "five thousand-trillionths of a second" after the creation of the universe. Aczel brings the non-scientist reader up to speed with a clear description of theoretical and experimental scientific advances over past century and the development of accelerator technology. An exciting, true scientific adventure. Illus. (Oct.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


"A fascinating discussion of research at the cutting-edge of physics."--Arthur I. Miller, author of Deciphering the Cosmic Number

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; Stated 1st Edition edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307591670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307591678
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #703,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Amir D. Aczel, Ph.D., is the author of 17 books on mathematics and science, some of which have been international bestsellers. Aczel has taught mathematics, statistics, and history of science at various universities, and was a visiting scholar at Harvard in 2005-2007. In 2004, Aczel was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is also the recipient of several teaching awards, and a grant from the American Institute of Physics to support the writing of two of his books. Aczel is currently a research fellow in the history of science at Boston University. The photo shows Amir D. Aczel inside the CMS detector of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the international laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, while there to research his new book, "Present at the Creation: The Story of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider"--which is about the search for the mysterious Higgs boson, the so-called "God particle," dark matter, dark energy, the mystery of antimatter, Supersymmetry, and hidden dimensions of spacetime.
See Amir D. Aczel's webpage:
Video on CERN and the Large Hadron Collider:

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Particle Physics for the Curious October 25, 2010
The completion of repairs to CERN's new supercollider has resulted in a wealth of general science offerings devoted to the attempt to explain humanity's most expensive and complicated machine. It is quite clear that a number of publishers are hoping to ride an anticipated wave of publicity to great profit--if and when the Higgs boson is discovered. Having previously tackled several of the related books, I am pleased to say that this volume is one of Dr. Aczel's best efforts; it provides an excellent road map to the intricacies of the standard model--which I now understand a bit better than before--and provides both a more informative and more entertaining read than its competition. To be sure, this is no replacement for a text nor should anyone think of it in that light; rather, it is a story about discovery.

To even begin to intelligently discuss the science that makes the supercollider relevant requires massive amounts of backstory. The reader must be introduced to fantastically complex theoretical musings and, I think some editor somewhere has dictated that no equations may be used, although a few of them crept into the appendix. Here is where Dr. Aczel's effort is superior. His recital of the basic underlying scientific principles has all the hallmarks of a capable lecturer--other authors in this area focus almost entirely on their unique and valuable contributions to the science in such a way that makes an understanding of the whole picture somewhat difficult, but this more general work is better able to convey the sense of wonder and shared discovery that motivates scientists to keep digging deeper into nature's inner workings.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for Some, Not for Others August 19, 2012
A 3-star rating from means that I don't recommend a particular book, but I would not, in general, deter people from reading it. It also means that, in my opinion, if you don't get to this book on your reading list, then it is not a big deal; no loss.

I want to formally begin by saying that, for those who do not like this book, this work is not really representative of the quality of Aczel's craft and ability. He really is a rare specimen of genius, in that his genius spills over from the world of mathematics and into the finer, more liberal arts, as attested to by his prose. In sum, Aczel could have done much better with this work. I think some issues in this book's construction were his fault, while many others were problems arising from the nature of the subject matter (i.e., the genre, popular physics), and the problem of being slightly out of his depth in subtler matters of the history of science (see the link to my blog post below).

Some portions of this book are brilliantly composed, as one comes to expect from Aczel's works, like "Fermat's Last Theorem," for example. In other places, I could hardly figure out why Aczel was including a particular bit of information, such as talking about the world's largest tunnels in the world, of which the LHC's is not one of them. I see that he was trying to give the reader some amount of perspective, but I don't think the discussion was helpful (and that most would not find it helpful), and I seriously believe that it took away from the book; I felt like it was filler. In the first part of the book (the first 3 chapters, I think), Aczel bombards the reader with an endless series of numbers, some of which are helpful, but most just make the text a mess.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Aczel's PRESENT AT THE CREATION celebrates life October 13, 2010
It is obvious in talking with bestselling author Amir Aczel on my radio show that he has a real passion for life, and it would be impossible to read his newest book PRESENT AT THE CREATION and not realize that he has just as much passion about math and the world around us. The book takes us into unprecedented access of the mechanism that explores the world that lies beyond what we see with the naked eye, and help us to realize really how small and insignificant we are.

If you are a lover of science and curious about the lives of those who are giving us the knowledge of the world we take for granted, then PRESENT AT THE CREATION is a book you definitely want to take your time and enjoy.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Take a Tour of LHC December 30, 2010
After reading Massive it was not a difficult task to pick up Present at Creation ("PAC") as there is some overlap in content, although Massive is primarily about the Higgs mechanism (Higgs field and Higgs boson). As the subtitle states, this book is primarily about the story of CERN and the LHC ("Large Hadron Collider"), which presently, and in the near future, is smashing accelerated proton streams at 99.9999964 % of the speed of light, and by using two separate beams containing approximately 7 trillion volts (7 TeV). This last achievement occurred on March 19, 2010. Despite these highlights and descriptions, this is probably the only issue one would have with the books contents--they are primarily descriptive without providing the prescriptive contect in enable the reader to recall what they previously read. Another problem is that the book often repeats itself and is painfully descriptive for a popular level science book (e.g., chapters 8 through 10). There are many incredible facts one gleaned from the passages of the particle chapters--including color photographs and one of the best summaries on quarks I have read to date. Aside from these issues, PAC is fantastic at its storytelling goal.

As the beams collide, there are four specific locations at CERN where pictures are taken at each of the four detectors named at the LHC: the ATLAS, ALICE, CMS and the LHCb--each unit set up for a specific purpose in analyzing the collisions. The first chapter of PAC is to provide a lay of the land relating to CERN and the LHC. Moreover, besides a diagram showing the 8 points around the LHC that contain the different detectors, their placement and purpose, the remainder is to unpack the nature of LHC's quest, which is reiterated at the end chapter and appendix.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars incredible subject
expertly written, surprisingly understandable (after about 2-3 reading). I couldn't put it down. The most capable author I ever encountered.
Published 29 days ago by gyuri
5.0 out of 5 stars All about the LHC
This is a lively and lucid description of the research taking place at the LHC in Switzerland. The physics is explained in easy-to-follow language, and the book contains many... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Ray Stefanski
5.0 out of 5 stars a gift
This was a gift along with three other books that are about CERN . He said it is slow reading because some of it is technical but he loves all four books. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Susan C. Elbare
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Nice book explaining the importance of the Higgs particle. A good explanation of the pathway to the discovery and the result of the tests
Published 20 months ago by Andy kelsall
4.0 out of 5 stars update of partical physics
The book presented current state of investigation & discoveries in partical Physics. Included was the history of mathematics (Noester equation 0f symetry/ conservation... Read more
Published on April 20, 2012 by Norman H. Gaffin
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Relevant
This book describes, in considerable detail and with good clarity, recent developments involving the LHC at CERN. Read more
Published on March 18, 2012 by BookWormJDC
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine blend of science and history in a top pick
PRESENT AT THE CREATION: THE STORY OF CERN AND THE LARGE HADRON COLLIDER comes from an author who interviewed directors and scientists and who was allowed rare access to the lab at... Read more
Published on December 17, 2010 by Midwest Book Review
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