Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"From the Great Wall to the Great Collider"

Authored by Steve Nadis and Shing-Tung Yau, this book is a disappointment. It has clearly been written as a lobbying pamphlet for the successor to the Large Hadron Collider, directed at opinion-formers in the Chinese government. While there is nothing wrong with that, it does make for a somewhat indigestible read for a general audience.

Chapter 1 gives a potted history of particle physics starting with J. J. Thomson's discovery of the electron and continuing to the present. This is familiar stuff, albeit with an emphasis on the (very important) contributions made by Chinese physicists.

Chapter 2 is particle-accelerator-centric as we move into the search for the Higgs boson; explanations are layman-oriented and familiar.

The justification for the next big accelerator has to be new physics. In chapter 3 the candidates are discussed: the search for supersymmetric particles; deeper analysis of properties of the Higgs particle(s); the potential discovery of dark matter; extra dimensions. This chapter is the best in the book, written with some enthusiasm.

Chapter 4 ('China on Center Stage') is a review of current Chinese experimental high-energy physics and is plainly making the case for further Chinese government investment - an argument continued in chapter 5 which lobbies for a *big* collider (100 TeV collisions and 100 km circumference).

The final chapter itemises all the spinoffs from such a large, complex project: high-technology jobs, international cooperation, national prestige, high-speed computing, storage and communications, superconducting magnets, advanced instrumentation and so on.

In summary, this is a worthy book, let down by its bland and deadening prose style. It is, of course, somewhat interesting to read a high-level summary of the case for the 'next' LHC but in terms of the physics there are many, many popular books out there which do a better job of explaining the state-of-the-art and where it might be going.

Luboš Motl has a somewhat more enthusiastic review on his blog, published on October 26, 2015.

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