30 March 2011


By Frank Close

Oxford University Press

Hardback: £9.99

“Of all the things that make the universe, the commonest and weirdest are neutrinos.” Thus starts Frank Close’s latest book, Neutrino, a fascinating look into one of the most compelling and surprising scientific advances of the past century.

With its very basic title, a reader might imagine that this book, written by a leading particle theorist, would be an accurate but dry discourse on the eponymous particle. They would be surprised to find a moving book centred on the lives and work of three individuals: Ray Davis, John Bahcall and Bruno Pontecorvo. Neutrino manages to capture not only their impressive scientific contributions but something of their personalities and the times, through an excellent choice of quotes and stories from friends and colleagues. Consequently it is a book that is brief, scientifically accurate and full of drama.

The neutrino’s origins in the early 20th century studies of radiation, stellar astrophysics and neutrino oscillations are all carefully and clearly explained. This book fills in many of the gaps left by more cursory treatments, in particular the road from Wolfgang Pauli’s proposal of the neutrino to the development of the theory of beta decay by Enrico Fermi. But the pedagogic scope is wisely limited and the author does not shy away from leaving the scientific explanations to a footnote if they are incidental to the main storyline.

Neutrino also manages to capture the full spectrum of ideas, events and relationships that play a part in particle physics. The path between brilliant theoretical insight and triumphant experimental verification can be long and precarious. The prosaic (and often deciding) factors – the casual encounter with a colleague that sparks a new idea, incorrect theoretical assumptions identified and corrected, incremental advances in technology, site selection, the vagaries of funding decisions, politics, the role of industrial partners, and just plain luck – are accurately and entertainingly discussed.

That this book succeeds on a number of levels is a credit to the author’s deep knowledge of the physics and his meticulous research, as well as a concise and imaginative writing style. The omission of the LSND and MiniBooNE experiments is the only notable absence, though hardly surprising since the experimental situation here is far from resolved. If the signatures of antineutrino appearance from these experiments stand up to further investigation, neutrinos will have proved to be even weirder than we thought and will provide the author with rich material for a second edition.

• Hugh Gallagher, Tufts University.

How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog

By Chad Orzel


Hardback: £7.99

When I first sat down with How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog I was expecting a little light reading, something to pick up on Sunday after lunch. After all, if a dog could understand it, surely someone who has a PhD in physics wouldn’t find it too challenging? I was wrong.

Initially Chad Orzel’s analogies with squirrels and dog wavefunctions are both amusing and enlightening, but as the book moves on they don’t make his subject any clearer. By the time he has reached incoherence it is hard to see how anyone without a good grounding in physics would cope. But it is worth persevering.

Orzel’s style – especially his references to dog treats, bunnies and squirrels – get irritating at times, but despite this I found myself enjoying the book.

To quote Orzel, “quantum mechanics is often subtle and difficult to understand”. His book reminds us why that is, and overall he succeeds in making it a little clearer.

Catriona Charlesworth, St Jean de Gonville.

Field Computation for Accelerator Magnets: Analytical and Numerical Methods for Electromagnetic Design and Optimization

By Stephan Russenschuck


Hardback: £165 €204 $275

The LHC is an amazing engineering achievement supported by a long programme of developments. CERN has been encouraging the development of technologies required to complete the project since the late 1960s (for example, the GESSS collaboration between the Saclay, Karlsruhe and Rutherford Laboratories). The quality of this work has been recognized internationally and it has contributed to spin-off activities, especially in the development of superconductors and in magnetic-field computation. With the completion of the LHC, and recognizing CERN’s desire to maintain the competences required to design accelerators, it is the right time to publish a book on the 
computer methods developed to design the LHC magnets.

In this book, Stephan Russenschuck provides an extremely useful and comprehensive description of magnetic-field computation for particle-accelerator magnets. It gives practical information and describes simple methods of analysis; in addition, it includes the abstract mathematics necessary to understand the finite element methods that were developed specifically for the design of the magnets for the LHC’s main ring. The final chapter examines optimization methods, particularly those implemented in the ROXIE software.

The successful design of the LHC magnets required highly accurate field-computation methods that were capable of modelling effects such as conductor and cable magnetization, which are uniquely important to accelerators. Even the LHC’s superconducting magnets quench, when a small resistive volume diffuses rapidly through the coil structure, driven forward by the heat it generates. This book’s chapters describe methods for modelling these effects, and demonstrate the accuracy of the results by comparison with measurements. The appendices include practical information about cryogenic material properties required for quench analysis.

This is a well presented book that makes excellent use of computer graphics to show results and explain phenomena. The graphics showing interstrand coupling currents in conductors and cables are particularly clear and help to make this chapter easy to understand.

Russenschuck has written a valuable addition to the library of those involved in the design of accelerator magnets.

John Simkin, Vector Fields Software.

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