Radioactivity and Radiation: What They Are, What They Do, and How to Harness Them

By Claus Grupen and Mark Rodgers
Springer International Publishing

Have you ever thought that batteries capable of providing energy over very long periods could be made with radioisotopes? Did you know that the bacterium deinococcus radiodurans can survive enormous radiation doses and, thanks to its ability to chemically alter highly radioactive waste, it could be potentially employed to clean up radioactively contaminated areas? And do you believe that cockroaches have an extremely high radiation tolerance? Apparently, the latter is a myth. These are a few of the curiosities contained in this “all that you always wanted to know about radioactivity” book from Grupen and Rodgers. It gives a comprehensive overview of the world of radioactivity and radiation, from its history to its risks for humans.

The book begins by laying the groundwork with essential, but quite detailed (similar to a school textbook), information about the structure of matter, how radiation is generated, how it interacts with matter and how it can be measured. In the following chapters, the book explores the substantial benefits of radioactivity through its many applications (not only positive, but also negative and sometimes questionable) and the possible risks associated with its use. The authors deal mainly with ionising radiation; however, in view of the public debate about other kinds of radiation (such as mobile-phone and microwave signals), they include a brief chapter on non-ionising radiation. Also interesting are the final sections, provided as appendices, which summarise the main technologies of radiation detectors as well as the fundamental principles of radiation protection. In the latter, the rationale behind current international rules and regulations, put in place to avoid excessive radiation exposure for radiation workers and the general public, is clearly explained.

This extensive topic is covered using easily understood terms and only elementary mathematics is employed to describe the essentials of complex nuclear-physics phenomena. This makes for pleasant reading intended for the general public interested in radioactivity and radiation, but also for science enthusiasts and inquisitive minds. As a bonus, the book is illustrated with eye-catching cartoons, most of them drawn by one of the authors.

The book emphasises that radiation is everywhere and that almost everything around us is radioactive to some degree: there is natural radioactivity in our homes, in the food that we eat and the air that we breathe. Radiation from the natural environment does not present a hazard; however, radiation levels higher than the naturally occurring background can be harmful to both people and the environment. These artificially increased radiation levels are mainly due to the nuclear industry and have therefore risen substantially since the beginning of the civil-nuclear age in the 1950s. This approach helps readers to put things in perspective and allows them to compare the numbers and specific measurement quantities that are used in the radiation-protection arena. These quantities are the same used by the media, for instance, to address the general public when a radiation incident occurs.

Not only will this book enrich the reader’s knowledge about radioactivity and radiation, it will also provide them with tools to better understand many of the related scientific issues. Such comprehension is crucial for anyone who is willing to develop their own point of view and be active in public debates on the topic.

• Federico Ravotti, CERN.


ITER Physics

By C Wendell Horton Jr and Sadruddin Benkadda
World Scientific

This 235 page book is dedicated to the ITER tokamak, the deuterium–tritium fusion reactor under construction in France, which aims to investigate the feasibility of fusion power. The book provides a concise overview of the state-of-the-art plasma physics involved in nuclear-fusion processes. Definitely not an introductory book – not even for a plasma-physics graduate student – it would be useful as a reference text for experts. Across 10 chapters, the authors describe the physics learned from previous tokamak projects around the world and the application of that experience to ITER.

After an introduction to the ITER project, the conventional magneto-hydrodynamic description of plasma physics is discussed, with strong emphasis on the geometry of the divertor (located at the bottom of the vacuum vessel to extract heat and reduce contamination of the plasma from impurities). Chapter 3 deals with the problem of alpha-particle distribution, which is a source of Alfven and cyclotron instabilities. Edge localised mode (ELM) instabilities associated with the divertor’s magnetic separatrix are also discussed. Conditions of turbulent transport are assumed throughout, so chapter 4 provides a general review of our (mainly experimental) knowledge of the topic. Chapters 5 and 6 are specific to the ITER design because they describe the ELM instabilities in the ITER tokamak and the solutions adopted for their control. Concluding the part dedicated to the fusion-reactor transient phase, steady-state operations and plasma diagnostics techniques are described in chapters 7 and 8, respectively.

The tokamak’s complex magnetic field is able to confine charged particles in the fusion plasma but not neutral particles. Neutron bombardment of surfaces can be viewed as an inconvenience, making it necessary to ensure the walls are radiation hard, or an advantage, turning the surfaces into a breeding blanket to generate further tritium fuel. Radiation hardness of the tokamak walls is discussed in chapter 9, while chapter 10 explains how ITER will transmute a lithium blanket into tritium via bombardment with fusion neutrons. The IFMIF (International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility) project, conceived for fusion-material tests and still in its final design phase, is also briefly presented. The book closes with some predictions about the expectations to be fulfilled by ITER, before proceeding to the design of DEMO – a future tokamak for electrical-energy production.

In summary, ITER Physics is a book for expert scientists who are looking for a compact overview of the latest advances in tokamak physics. I appreciated the exhaustive set of references at the end of each chapter, since it provides a way to go deeper into concepts not exhaustively explained in the book. Plasma-fusion physics is complex, not only because it is a many-body problem but also because our knowledge in this field is limited, as the authors stress. I would have appreciated more graphic material in some parts: in order to fully understand how a fusion reactor works, one has to think in 3D, so schematics are always helpful.

• Rogelio Palomo, University of Seville, Spain


Books received

Relativistic Kinetic Theory, with Applications in Astrophysics and Cosmology

By Gregory V Vereshchagin and Alexey G Aksenov
Cambridge University Press

Vereshchagin, Aksenov

This book provides an overview of relativistic kinetic theory, from its theoretical foundations to its applications, passing through the various numerical methods used when analytical solutions of complex equations cannot be obtained.

Kinematic theory (KT) was born in the 19th century and aims to derive the properties of macroscopic matter from the properties of its constituent microscopic particles. The formulation of KT within special relativity was completed in the 1960s.

Relativistic KT has traditional applications in astrophysics and cosmology, two fields that tend to rely on observations rather than experiments. But it is now becoming more accessible to direct tests due to recent progress in ultra-intense lasers and inertial fusion, generating growing interest in KT in recent years.

The book has three parts. The first deals with the fundamental equations and methods of the theory, starting with the evolution of the basic concept of KT from nonrelativistic to special and general relativistic frameworks. The second part gives an introduction to computational physics and describes the main numerical methods used in relativistic KT. In the third part, a range of applications of relativistic KT are presented, including wave dispersion and thermalisation of relativistic plasma, kinetics of self-gravitating systems, cosmological structure formation, and neutrino emission during gravitational collapse.

Written by two experts in the field, the book is intended for students who are already familiar with both special and general relativity and with quantum electrodynamics.


Foundations of Nuclear and Particle Physics

By T W Donnelly, J A Formaggio, B R Holstein, R G Milner and B Surrow
Cambridge University Press

Donnelly, Formaggio, Holstein, Milner, Surrow

This textbook aims to present the foundations of both nuclear and particle physics in a single volume in a balanced way, and to highlight the interconnections between them. The material is organised from a “bottom-up” point of view, moving from the fundamental particles of the Standard Model to hadrons and finally to few- and many-body nuclei built from these hadronic constituents.

The first group of chapters introduces the symmetries of the Standard Model. The structure of the proton, neutron and nuclei in terms of fundamental quarks and gluons is then presented. A lot of space is devoted to the processes used experimentally to unravel the structure of hadrons and to probe quantum chromodynamics, with particular focus on lepton scattering. Following the treatment of two-nucleon systems and few-body nuclei, which have mass numbers below five, the authors discuss the properties of many-body nuclei, and also extend the treatment of lepton scattering to include the weak interactions of leptons with nucleons and nuclei. The last group of chapters is dedicated to relativistic heavy-ion physics and nuclear and particle astrophysics. A brief perspective on physics beyond the Standard Model is also provided.

The volume includes approximately 120 exercises and is completed by two appendices collecting values of important constants, useful equations and a brief summary of quantum theory.


The Grant Writer’s Handbook: How to Write a Research Proposal and Succeed

By Gerard M Crawley and Eoin O’Sullivan
Imperial College Press

Crawley, O’Sullivan

This book is designed as a “how to” guide to writing grant proposals for competitive peer review. Nowadays researchers are often required to apply to funding agencies to secure a budget for their work, but being a good researcher does not necessarily imply being able to write a successful grant proposal. Typically, the additional skills and insights needed are learnt through experience.

This timely book aims to guide researchers through the whole process, from conceiving the initial research idea, defining a project and drafting a proposal, through to the review process and responding to reviewers’ comments. Drawing on their own experience as reviewers in a number of different countries, the authors provide many important tips to help researchers communicate both the quality of their research and their ability to carry it out and manage a grant. The authors illustrate their guidelines with the help of many examples of both successful and unsuccessful grant applications, and emphasise key messages with quotes from reviewers.

The book also contains valuable advice for primary investigators on how to set up their research budget, manage people and lead their project. Two appendices at the end of the volume provide website addresses and references, as well as an outline of how to organise a grant competition.

Aimed primarily at early career researchers applying for their first grant, the book will also be beneficial to more experienced scientists, to the administrators of universities and institutions that support their researchers during the submission process, and to the staff of recently established funding organisations, who may have little experience in organising peer-review competitions.