Synopses & Reviews
From molecules to stars, much of the cosmic canvas can be painted in brushstrokes of primary color: the protons, neutrons, and electrons we know so well. But for meticulous detail, we have to dip into exotic hues--leptons, mesons, hadrons, quarks. Bringing particle physics to life as few authors can, Jeremy Bernstein here unveils nature in all its subatomic splendor.
In this graceful account, Bernstein guides us through high-energy physics from the early twentieth century to the present, including such highlights as the newly discovered Higgs boson. Beginning with Ernest Rutherford's 1911 explanation of the nucleus, a model of atomic structure emerged that sufficed until the 1930s, when new particles began to be theorized and experimentally confirmed. In the postwar period, the subatomic world exploded in a blaze of unexpected findings leading to the theory of the quark, in all its strange and charmed variations. An eyewitness to developments at Harvard University and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Bernstein laces his story with piquant anecdotes of such luminaries as Wolfgang Pauli, Murray Gell-Mann, and Sheldon Glashow.
Surveying the dizzying landscape of contemporary physics, Bernstein remains optimistic about our ability to comprehend the secrets of the cosmos--even as its mysteries deepen. We now know that over eighty percent of the universe consists of matter we have never identified or detected. A Palette of Particles draws readers into the excitement of a field where the more we discover, the less we seem to know.
"Casting subatomic particles across a metaphorical painter's palette, Bernstein (Quantum Leaps) blends science, history, and anecdote (including his own work on staff at Harvard University and Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study) to reveal the lively, often bewildering world of particle physics. The primary colors of Bernstein's palette are the electron, photon, neutron, proton, and neutrino, 'the set that was in play until the 1930s.' Questions about what held the nucleus together (which Edward Teller described in a poem as the 'nuclear glue') and what constituted elementary particles lead to Bernstein's 'secondary colors,' including Hideki Yukawa's mesons and Murray Gell-Mann's whimsically named up, down, and strange quarks. At the palette's outer reaches lie the mysterious 'pastels' and the forces that shape our universe. These include the elusive Higgs boson, quantum gravity's graviton, and the tachyons physicists posit move faster than the speed of light. Bernstein is an unabashed romantic, fondly recalling the tabletop experiments of the mid-20th century (he's worked in the field for more than 50 years). Later discoveries, especially the Higgs coaxed to visibility with powerful accelerators and computer analysis remain, in the author's estimation, coldly 'abstract.' For Bernstein and for readers, the true wonder lies in how each discovery reveals yet another mystery. 11 halftones, 11 line drawings, 3 tables." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Jeremy Bernstein guides readers through high-energy physics from early twentieth-century atomic models to leptons, mesons, quarks, and the newly discovered Higgs boson, drawing them into the excitement of a universe where 80 percent of all matter has never been identified. From molecules to galaxies, the more we discover, the less we seem to know.
About the Author
Jeremy Bernstein is the author of many books on science for the general reader, most recently Quantum Leaps.
Author's home: Aspen, CO