19 August 2008

Cosmic Anger: Abdus Salam – The First Muslim Nobel Scientist by Gordon Fraser. Oxford University Press. Hardback ISBN 9780199208463 £25 ($49.95).

The late Abdus Salam – the only Nobel scientist from Pakistan – came from a small place in the Punjab called Jhang. The town is also famous for "Heer-Ranjha", a legendary love story of the Romeo-and-Juliet style that has a special romantic appeal in the countryside around the town. Salam turned out to be another "Ranjha" from Jhang, whose first love happened to be theoretical physics. Cosmic Anger, Salam’s biography by Gordon Fraser, is a new, refreshing look at the life of this scientific genius from Pakistan.

I have read several articles and books about Salam and also met him several times, but I still found Fraser’s account instructive. What I find intriguing and interesting about Cosmic Anger is first the title, and second that each chapter of the book gives sufficient background and historical settings of the events that took place in the life of Salam. In this regard the first three chapters are especially interesting, in particular the third, where the author talks about Messiahs, Mahdis and Ahmadis. This shows in a definitive way the in-depth knowledge that Fraser has about Islam and the region where Salam was born.

In chapter 10, Fraser discusses the special relationship between Salam and the former President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan. I feel that more emphasis was required about the fact that for 16 years, from 1958 to 1974, Salam had the greatest influence on the scientific policies of Pakistan. On 4 August 1959, while inaugurating the Atomic Energy Commission, President Ayub said: "In the end, I must say how happy I am to see Prof. Abdus Salam in our midst. His attainments in the field of science at such a young age are a source of pride and inspiration for us and I am sure that his association with the commission will help to impart weight and prestige to the recommendations." Salam was involved in setting up the Atomic Energy Commission and other institutes such as the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology and the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission in Pakistan.

Finally, I find the book to be a well written account of the achievements of a genius who was a citizen of the world, destined to play a memorable role in the global development of science and technology. At the same time, in many ways Salam was very much a Pakistani. In the face of numerous provocations and frustrations, he insisted on keeping his nationality. He loved the Pakistani culture, its language, its customs, its cuisine and its soil where he was born and is buried.

Hafeez Hoorani, National Centre for Physics, Quaid-E-Azam University.

Gravitational Waves Vol 1: Theory and Experiments by Michele Maggiore, Oxford University Press. Hardback ISBN 9780198570745 £45 ($90).

This is a complete book for a field of physics that has just reached maturity. Gravitational wave (GW) physics recently arrived at a special stage of development. On the theory side, most of the generation mechanisms have been understood and some technical controversies have been settled. On the experimental side, several large interferometers are now operating around the world, with sensitivities that could allow the first detection of GWs, even if with a relatively low probability. The GW community is also starting vigorous upgrade programmes to bring the detection probability to certitude in less than a decade from now.

The need for a textbook that treats the production and detection of GWs systematically is clear. Michele Maggiore has succeeded in doing this in a way that is fruitful not only for the young physicist starting to work in the field, but also for the experienced scientist needing a reference book for everyday work.

In the first part, on theory, he uses two complementary approaches: geometrical and field-theoretical. The text fully develops and compares both, which is of great help for a deep understanding of the nature of GWs. The author also derives all equations completely, leaving just the really straightforward algebra for the reader. A basic knowledge of general relativity and field theory is the only prerequisite.

Maggiore explains thoroughly the generation of gravitational radiation by the most important astrophysical sources, including the emitted power and its frequency distribution. One full chapter is dedicated to the Hulse-Taylor binary pulsar, which constituted the first evidence for GW emission. The "tricky" subject of post-Newtonian sources is also clearly introduced and developed. Exercises that are completely worked out conclude most of these theory chapters, enhancing the pedagogical character of the book.

The second part is dedicated to experiments and starts by setting up a background of data-analysis techniques, including noise spectral density, matched filtering, probability and statistics, all of which are applied to pulse and periodic sources and to stochastic backgrounds. Maggiore treats resonant mass detectors first, because they were the first detectors chronologically to have the capability of detecting signals, even if only strong ones originating in the neighbourhood of our galaxy. The study of resonant bar detectors is instructive and deals with issues that are also very relevant to understanding interferometers. The text clearly explains fundamental physics issues, such as approaching the quantum limits and quantum non-demolition measurements.

The last chapter is devoted to a complete and detailed study of the large interferometers – the detectors of the current generation – which should soon make the first detection of GWs. It discusses many details of these complex devices, including their coupling to gravitational waves, and it makes a careful analysis of all of the noise sources.

Lastly, it is important to remark on a little word that appears on the cover: "Volume 1". As the author explains in the preface, he is already working on the second volume. This will appear in a few years and will be dedicated to astrophysical and cosmological sources of GWs. The level of this first book allows us to expect an interesting description of all "we can learn about nature in astrophysics and cosmology, using these tools".

Carlo Bradaschia, INFN/Pisa.

bright-rec iop pub iop-science physcis connect