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The Perfect Wave: With Neutrinos at the Boundary of Space and Time Hardcover – February 10, 2014


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Editorial Reviews

Review

Entertaining and evocative, Päs has written a breezy, readable account of particle physics, especially neutrino physics, in a lucid, lively narrative. (Sandip Pakvasa, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, University of Hawaii at Manoa)

Takes readers for a wild ride in pursuit of the neutrino--part ghost, part outlaw, part Holy Grail to theoretical physicists…From vast laboratories deep underground to the cutting edge Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory nearing completion in frigid Antarctica, Päs reveals the ‘world of madmen, dreamers, and visionaries’ who pursue the neutrino and its place in theoretical physics.” (Publishers Weekly 2013-11-11)

Päs for his part, places neutrinos within the broader context of contemporary high theory and delves deeper into the science. Physics buffs will relish his explanations, and not just of established ideas such a the seesaw mechanism. Neutrinos, Päs explains, may offer a way to probe the extra dimensions of space postulated by some ‘theories of everything.’ The puny particles’ weirdness, it seems, knows no end. (The Economist 2014-02-01)

The ghostly neutrino--a mutable, almost massless particle that can pass through dense substances--stars in this scientific history. Theoretical physicist Heinrich Päs surfs the decades of dazzling research since Wolfgang Pauli first posited the particle in 1930. Päs revisits key theorists such as Ettore Majorana, and lays out the work of groundbreaking labs from Los Alamos in New Mexico, where Fred Reines and Clyde Cowan first detected neutrinos in the early 1950s, to today’s vast IceCube neutrino observatory in Antarctica. (Nature 2014-01-23)

Some science books are good because they tell you a lot about science. Some are good because they present their examples and argument in very well written prose. A few do both. The Perfect Wave is one of the few…I can highly recommend The Perfect Wave as a pleasant and provocative way to gain insight into the way physicists think, and into the way the universe (probably) works. (John Gribbin Wall Street Journal 2014-04-15)

Written by one of the world’s leading experts in the field…Heinrich Pas’ book guides the reader through some difficult territory, covering the historical and philosophical developments that led to our understanding of the neutrino today. It is a peculiar route that navigates via such topics as the ancient Greek and magic mushrooms. Plus of course the obligatory cat that is simultaneously alive and dead…Though this book is written in simple language, don’t expect an easy read. There are some highly challenging ideas to get your head around--but it is worth making the effort. (Paul Sutherland BBC Sky at Night 2014-09-01)

About the Author

Heinrich Päs is Professor of Theoretical Particle Physics at Technische Universität Dortmund, Germany.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (February 10, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674725018
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674725010
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #550,906 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bob Wilmes on March 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book for non-scientists who long ago left college physics behind to understand the background and history of the neutrino, including a bevy of Nobel prize winners in Physics and why their work was important. I loved the practical explanations of esoteric quantum physics and symmetry. Who knew string theory could be so interesting ? The author is a German PhD particle physicist who explains much about the academic and real world examples in "big science" experiments like the Large Hadron Collider. Underlying this helps the novice understand what the implications are for the Grand Unified Theory (GUT). There is a lot of personal history here as well starting with surfing in Hawaii and ending with Van Gogh's Starry Night. This is a perfect 2 cross country flight airplane book accompanied by some great tunes on the iPhone. Loved the book - mega thanks to the author and Harvard for publishing.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sinohey TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 16, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The book is a mix of autobiography, scientific history, physics and speculation. Pas begins with his peripatetic academic journey in theoretical physics from student to faculty, through various temporary assignments in universities around the world. He lands in Hawaii, takes up surfing and sees the waves as a metaphor for the action of neutrinos.

Neutrinos are infinitesimally small particles, estimated to be about one millionth the size of an electron, almost devoid of mass, with no electric charge and travel at speed of light or faster. They are generated from stellar explosions, sunbursts or gamma ray eruptions and are limitlessly abundant in the universe with ability to penetrate through any matter regardless of its density. We are bombarded daily with neutrinos without any apparent effect or damage. Sometimes called “ghost” particles, they are almost impossible to detect yet are an indispensable component of the cosmos.

In this book, Päs unveils the “world of madmen, dreamers, and visionaries” who for the past eight decades have investigated the neutrino and attempted to elucidate its role in theoretical physics.
It began in 1930, when the Austrian, Wolfgang Pauli first proposed the neutrino to explain what happened to the energy lost during beta decay. He was enthusiastically supported by Enrico Fermi. But it was not until 1956 when the Standard Model explained the variations of neutrino behavior, and the more recent BSM (Beyond Standard Model) physics of branes, string theory and neutrino oscillation.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Ekaterina Puffini on February 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found it thin reading. I had expected a reasonable treatment of the neutrino. What I got was a lot of personal history of the author and his colleagues and a pretty minimal discussion of the neutrino itself. I am half way through it and doubt if I will finish it. It is raining pretty hard out right now and the choice is finish reading this book or clean my oven. The oven awaits.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By H. D. Sosnoff on March 9, 2014
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This is a very well written summary of the state of Nuetrino study today. It includes a few bonuses: an explanation of how extra dimensions might explain quantum entanglement; and the mechanics of how the weak nuclear force creates isotopes. Some of Pas's speculations are pretty spacy but his explanations of parts of string theory are better than average! Well worth the reading time!
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Unless you are involved on a day-to-day basis in the world of particle physics experiments and explorations, this book will make very little sense to you. The WSJ review was very misleading; this book is not written for the lay reader who wants an understandable
overview of current understandings of light theory (wave and particle) and relativity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Lawler on January 12, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book because of a reference to in in Physics Today. Let me be clear: I have not finished reading this book and don't expect to finish.

First, the introductory chapters are a waste of time. Do we really need to know about his father's Playboy collection? or his experience with magic mushrooms? The author discovered ancient Greek history and makes analogies of quantum mechanics to Plato's and other early Greek philosophies. It's been done much better before.

The philosophic ideas presented seem scattered and tenuously connected and actually disconnected. His explanations for certain phenomena are puzzling at best. For example, take this short passage:

"Among the elementary fermions, only the quarks carry color charge, but in contrast to the photons of electromagnetism the gluons themselves are color charged and interact among themselves, This combined with the number of gluons is the reason for a curious phenomena, namely that the color interactions become stronger with increasing distance."

Huh? How is the second sentence derived from the first? Is that an exercise for the student? There are many examples of this disconnected reasoning throughout. You get the picture and I'd recommend you pass on this book.
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I was both enlightened and befuddled by this book about subatomic physics and the neutrino. I've had only two semesters of college physics at UC Berkeley in the early '60s plus one or two other books on quantum mechanics. It's a fascinating subject, but, wow - I found myself in the deep end of this intellectual pool way too fast. I have to say that there is so much about quantum mechanics that I see as ultimately problematic for wider acceptance: 1) That you cannot measure both the velocity and location of the particles at the same time due to the disruptive effect on them from the measurement activity. And 2) That "Particles can reside in two different locations at once!" (p21) (Oh, yeah? Far out! Here: smoke this!) Sorry, but count me with Albert Einstein who said, "This is obvious nonsense." (p21) Nevertheless a "perfect wave" of neutrinos may indeed prove to enable far, far better imaging, such as an almost immediate image of a reaction inside a supernova, where light cannot escape with even a fuzzier image until months or years later. And as I understand it, the neutrino may ultimately be our ticket to ride back in time through a wormhole in curved space. Bottom line: I'd say the real value of this book for us civilians is that when our college kid comes home and starts talking about this stuff, we won't suspect him or her of doing what I said earlier.
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