The Perfect Wave: With Neutrinos at the Boundary of Space and Time

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9780674725010: The Perfect Wave: With Neutrinos at the Boundary of Space and Time

Almost weightless and able to pass through the densest materials with ease, neutrinos seem to defy the laws of nature. But these mysterious particles may hold the key to our deepest questions about the universe, says physicist Heinrich Päs. In The Perfect Wave, Päs serves as our fluent, deeply knowledgeable guide to a particle world that tests the boundaries of space, time, and human knowledge.

The existence of the neutrino was first proposed in 1930, but decades passed before one was detected. Päs animates the philosophical and scientific developments that led to and have followed from this seminal discovery, ranging from familiar topics of relativity and quantum mechanics to more speculative theories about dark energy and supersymmetry. Many cutting-edge topics in neutrino research--conjectures about the origin of matter, extra-dimensional spacetime, and the possibility of time travel--remain unproven. But Päs describes the ambitious projects under way that may confirm them, including accelerator experiments at CERN and Fermilab, huge subterranean telescopes designed to detect high-energy neutrino radiation, and the Planck space observatory scheduled to investigate the role of neutrinos in cosmic evolution.

As Päs's history of the neutrino illustrates, what is now established fact often sounded wildly implausible and unnatural when first proposed. The radical side of physics is both an exciting and an essential part of scientific progress, and The Perfect Wave renders it accessible to the interested reader.

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About the Author:

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

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)

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