There’s a new popular book about high energy physics coming out this week, Beyond the God Particle, by Leon Lederman and Christopher Hill. The authors are unapologetic about the “God Particle” terminology, coined by Lederman back in 1993 for marketing purposes, which for better or worse is now a fixture in popular accounts of the Higgs.
The new book isn’t really a general introduction to the subject, but is focused on two pretty much unrelated subjects. The first is the actual physics of the Higgs field, with a long and detailed explanation of chirality and the way in which interaction with the Higgs field provides particle mass terms. This is great material for anyone who has been subjected to endless attempts at explaining this as the Higgs being like molasses, or a room full of people, or any number of other metaphors that don’t really explain anything. Lederman and Hill go way beyond this, with a much more extensive and serious discussion, while still staying away from using equations. For someone who wants to understand as much as possible about what “particles get mass from the Higgs” means without looking at a Yukawa term in a Lagrangian, this is the place.
The second main topic of the book is Project X, Fermilab’s proposed new high-intensity proton linac that would provide beams suitable for studying rare decays, neutrino physics, potential muon storage rings, and new sorts of fission reactors for nuclear power. This is pretty much the centerpiece of plans to try and keep US in the game of cutting edge experimental HEP physics. As far as the energy frontier goes, the situation at the LHC is explained, with the argument made that on that front, all there is to do now is to wait and see, with 2017 the date by which the authors expect to have a verdict about whether there is new physics to study at the TeV scale. Only once this is in do they see an informed decision about a new high energy machine to be possible. As far as the last 30 years of theorist’s claims about BSM physics, they’re dismissed with:
Our fellow citizens often get confused about what big science is trying to do, perhaps because of what we tell them, usually in the media. For example, all too often we hear that colliders are built “to discover extra dimensions,” to “confirm string theory,” “to discover supersymmetry.” False! Colliders are built to uncover whatever is happening in nature at the shortest distances, and not to accommodate the agendas of various sects of theorists.
Throughout the book there’s a vigorous argument that science in general and HEP in particular deserve far more financial support from the public than it is getting. On the whole I’m in agreement, but I do think the authors go over the top at a couple points. The short discussion of cosmology is HEP-triumphalist:
The great discoveries, such as the “gauge principle” shared by all forces in nature, allowed us to speculate about “grand unification” and led to the idea of “cosmic inflation” and canonized the field of cosmology. Suddenly cosmology became respectable. The leading cosmologists are all particle physicists.
The argument for the societal value of scientific research dismisses economists as “eggheads” too dense to realize that there’s a simple answer to the question “What makes economies grow”:
The answer is almost obvious, yet it took more than 200 years from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations to figure it out. The answer is (drumroll): economies grow because of investment in science! Basic science, applied science, all science. All scientific research pays a handsome dividend, and the more science the better.
Given the current dysfunctional US government, funding valuable new tools like Project X will be a challenge. Lederman will be at the front of the charge to make this happen, and this book is one weapon for the fight ahead.
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