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L'on obtient une vision large de la competition ayant eu cours entre l'europe et les USA por la construction d'accelerateurs (outils de recherche fondamentale).
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Carroll's book can be roughly divided into three parts. In the first part, after giving us a brief overview of particle physics describing relativity, quantum mechanics, the Standard Model and the discovery of the twelve elementary particles that make up the universe, Carroll plunges into a description of the giant particle accelerators that have made possible our understanding of nature's fundamental building blocks. Personally I found this part most enjoyable, since it's a little more accessible than the theoretical part. Carroll tells us about the stupendous engineering challenges involved in the building of the LHC and takes us on a nice little tour of its interior. There's all kinds of fascinating and amusing stuff here; the lead tungstate crystals in the detectors that took ten years to grow, the earlier particle accelerator whose workings were affected by the moon's tides, the baguette dropped by a bird that temporarily created electrical problems, the helium "explosion" caused by high voltage that crippled the machine for months, the physicist whose face was exposed to an intense beam of protons and who still escaped relatively unscathed. The sheer size and complexity of the ten-thousand pound detectors - ATLAS and CMS - beggar belief and the smooth functioning of these hunks of metal, plastic and electronics is a resounding tribute to human ingenuity and collaboration. Carroll is very good at describing the structure and function of the marvelous machines that made the Higgs possible and again confirms the fact that the best science involves both great intellectual ideas and world-class engineering. Many of the LHC's components as well as the principal players are illustrated in color photographs in the center of the book.
Carroll also gives us a lucid account of the statistical methods and data collection techniques used to confirm the discovery of particles. The sheer amount of data collected by the LHC is staggering; as Carroll puts it, enough to fill about a thousand terabyte hard-drives per second. He does a good job detailing the great difficulty of collecting the data from an incredibly complex dance of particle collisions and most importantly, of separating the signal from the noise. He tells us about the almost mythical "5-sigma" threshold, essentially a very stringent statistical test that allows you to claim a "discovery" of a new particle. In July 2012, data from both the ATLAS and CMS detectors was combined together to claim a 5-sigma threshold. Carroll who was in the audience when the discovery was announced captures well the excitement in Geneva and around the world as an intensely international collaboration of more than three thousand LHC-related scientists tuned in to hear the groundbreaking news. This was definitely the discovery of a lifetime, and Peter Higgs was in the audience to hear about it. Yet Carroll drives home the point that statistics is not everything, and illustrates this through the cautionary tale of the discovery of "faster-than-light" neutrinos which, although statistically significant, turned out to be incorrect.
The second part of the book gives us the theoretical basis of the Higgs boson. To Carroll's credit, he spends a fair amount of time dispelling the simplistic belief that the "Higgs boson gives everything mass" and does a pretty good job leading us through the subtleties of what's called the "Higgs field" and exactly how it's relevant to particles masses and interactions. He also addresses the common misunderstanding that most of the mass of an everyday object comes from the Higgs. It doesn't; it comes from the strong interactions and therefore won't suddenly disappear if the Higgs boson were to hypothetically vanish. Along the way Carroll explains important concepts like spontaneous symmetry breaking and Feynman diagrams which are integral to understanding the Higgs mechanism. The last part of the book also has interesting discussions on the potential implications of the Higgs for understanding dark matter, dark energy and the Big Bang. And an amusing chapter lays to rest the slightly paranoid "end-of-world" scenarios postulated before the LHC went online. This same chapter also takes a thoughtful look at the public promotion of science and addresses the role of blogs and other media which communicate science, often correctly but sometimes prematurely. Carroll makes us appreciate the fact that scientists have to tread a fine line in being accurate while still not giving the media an opportunity to sensationalize their findings.
Finally in the third part, Carroll sheds light on the human aspect of science. Part of this is in the earlier chapters where he details the political jockeying and the clash of personalities that was involved in the cancellation of the high-stakes Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) project during the 90s. The fact is that these days even the most fundamental curiosity-driven research can involve billion-dollar equipment like the LHC. Carroll wonders whether governments around the world will now support these increasingly expensive endeavors, especially during times of recession, but also underscores the importance of this research for human creativity and unexpected practical spinoffs (like the World Wide Web). The human aspect of science is also revealed in a separate chapter that among other things asks who would get the Nobel Prize for the discovery. There is no doubt that somebody should get it (and almost universal consensus that Higgs should be included), but the history that Carroll describes makes it clear that at least six people came up with various parts of the idea within a narrow time frame. And the experimentalists seem to deserve it as much as the theoreticians. One thing is certain; any Nobel Prize for the Higgs is going to be at least somewhat controversial.
In general I greatly enjoyed reading "The Particle at the End of the Universe". It's engaging and an easy read and would complement similar other volumes like Ian Sample's "Massive" (which focuses more on the human side) and Frank Close's "The Infinity Puzzle" (which is heavier on the science). Carroll is a pleasant, informative, patient and humorous guide on our tour of the LHC and the Higgs. He is also measured and tends to temper the enthusiasm of discovery with realism; for instance he makes it clear that the discovery of the Higgs still leaves many questions unanswered, and it has no impact on other outstanding scientific problems like discovering cancer drugs or understanding the economy. What Carroll does manage to communicate is the deep satisfaction of discovery, the thrill of the chase and the astonishing achievements that human imagination and skill can make possible.
I'd have to rate this an "important read" for anyone obsessed with understanding what existence is all about. Not surprisingly it doesn't have the answer, but it does help explain the process and the path science is on to reach that goal.
"This is the story of the people who have devoted their lives to discovering the ultimate nature of reality, of which the Higgs [boson] is a crucial component. There are theorists, sitting with pencil and paper, fueled by expresso and heated disputes with colleagues, turning over abstract ideas in their minds. There are engineers, pushing machines and electronics well beyond the limits of existing technology. And most of all there are experimenters, bringing the machines and the ideas together to discover something new about nature. Modern physics at the cutting edge involves projects that cost billions of dollars and takes decades to complete, requiring extraordinary devotion and a willingness to bet high stakes in search of unique rewards. When it all comes together, the world changes."
The above extract comes from the prologue of this extraordinary book by Dr. Sean Carroll. He is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology and an author.
Note that in the above extract that a "boson" is a collective term for all particles that carry a force. For example, the photon (a particle of light) carries the electromagnetic force. The "Higgs" in Higgs boson is after British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs (born 1929).
This book deals with science and thus reality. The Higgs boson helps humanity with reality by answering this question:
Why do most particles have mass?
Personally, I read this book to learn about the Higgs boson but found that this book is so much more. (This book treats July 4, 2012 as the day the discovery of the Higgs boson was announced. Actually, it was tentatively announced on this day. As of March 14, 2013 there was tentative confirmation that the specific Higgs boson that was being searched for was actually found.)
Each chapter begins with a brief summary of what the chapter is about:
Chapter (1): "In which we ask why a group of talented and dedicated people would devote their lives to the pursuit of things too small to be seen."
(2) "In which we explore how the Higgs boson has really nothing to do with God but is nevertheless pretty important." (The Higgs boson has infamously been labelled "the God particle.")
(3) "In which we tear apart matter to reveal its ultimate constituents."
(4) "In which we trace the colourful history of the unlikely pastime of smashing together particles at ever-higher energies."
(5) "In which we visit the Large Hadron Collider [LHC], the triumph of science and technology that has been searching for the Higgs boson." (The LHC is the nine billion dollar "particle smasher" or "atom smasher" that may have found the Higgs boson. The LHC's home is at CERN, the laboratory in the northwest suburbs of Geneva, Switzerland and the birthplace of the World Wide Web. A "hadron" is a particle that can be broken down into smaller particles. For example, a proton is a hadron.)
(6) "In which we learn how to discover new particles by colliding other particles at enormous speeds, and watching what happens."
(7) "In which we suggest that everything in the universe is made out of fields: force fields that push and pull, and matter fields whose vibrations are particles."
(8) "In which we scrutinize the Higgs boson and the field from which it springs, showing how it breaks symmetries and gives the universe character."
(9) "In which we figure out how to find the Higgs boson, and how we know we've found it."
(10) "In which we draw back the curtain on the process by which results are obtained and discoveries are communicated."
(11) "In which we relate the fascinating tale of how the "Higgs" mechanism was invented and think about how history
will remember it."
(12) "In which we consider what lies beyond the Higgs boson: worlds of new forces, symmetries, and dimensions?"
(13) "In which we ask ourselves why particle physics is worth pursuing, and wonder what comes next."
Notice that I divided the above chapters into six sections. The first section (composed of chapters 1, 2, 3) is an introductory section that details some elementary particle physics, gives explanations, etc. The next section (chapters 4, 5) explains particle or atom smashers in general and the LHC in particular. Section three (chapters 6,7,8,9) is more particle physics with explanation of the Higgs boson. The fourth and sixth sections are composed of one chapter each. Section five (chapters 11, 12) is an interesting section where the Higgs boson's past is explained with predictions of what the future of particle physics may bring.
For those readers who want to learn about particle physics and the Higgs boson, I would first read sections one and section three. After that, the other sections can be read in any order.
Throughout the book are peppered black and white illustrations that illustrate important concepts. Also included are two sets of colour photographs.
Finally. for those who think they may get lost in a "particle soup," there is an appendix that provides a brief "summary of the particles and their properties." Two other interesting appendices are also provided.
In conclusion, this book provides the exciting story of how the human desire for understanding led to the possible greatest scientific achievement of our time!! It is truly a glorious time to be a thinking person and to be able to appreciate this momentous achievement!!!
(first published 2012; prologue; 13 chapters; main narrative 280 pages; 3 appendices; further reading; references; acknowledgements; index)
<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>