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.
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Frank Close, OBE, is Professor of Physics at Oxford University and a Fellow of Exeter College. He was formerly vice president of the British Association for Advancement of Science, Head of the Theoretical Physics Division at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and Head of Communications and Public Education at CERN. He is the author of several books, including The Void (OUP, 2007) and the best-selling Lucifer's Legacy (OUP, 2000). He was the winner of the Kelvin Medal of the Institute of Physics for his "outstanding contributions to the public understanding of physics."
*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
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