particle physics books

book review score+4

An Elementary Primer For Gauge Theory
K Moriyasu
World Press, 1983/2009, 177 pages

I thought this little textbook would be like Tensors, Relativity, and Cosmology (reviewed here)—all math and no science. But Moriyasu takes the opposite approach by explaining gauge theory intuitively. The term ‘elementary’ is relative: this is no pop physics book. But anyone who understands college-level physics, calculus, elementary quantum mechanics, and tensor notation should have little difficulty.

Moriyasu avoids the difficult math in favor of a semiclassical approach, trying wherever possible to relate it to familiar stuff like Maxwell's equations. He also tells us the history of gauge theory, including the early false steps, and shows why Yang-Mills equations and symmetry breaking are essential in quantum chromodynamics, electroweak interactions, Z and W bosons, superconductivity, and the Higgs field.

Moriyasu, a self-professed ‘non-expert’, has a solid understanding of the subject and the difficulties that gauge theorists faced. The age of the book is not an issue either, but if you really want an up-to-date discussion of gauge theory and electroweak, you're better off with Chris Quigg's Gauge Theories of the Strong, Weak, and Electromagnetic Interactions, a more difficult and more rigorous book, which gets into the heavy stuff like Weinberg's renormalizations. The great value of Moriyasu's book is to prevent you from drowning when you get there.

jan 10, 2016

book review score+5

Nuclear and Particle Physics: An Introduction, 2nd ed.
B.R. Martin
Wiley, 2009, 453 pages

By now, we've all heard the corny Higgs boson jokes: “Higgs bosun found in fo'c'sle. Now looking for its antiparticle, the Higgs boson's mate.” “What we need instead is the anti-Higgs. A particle that takes mass away.” “Apple has patent on Higgs boson particle; cease and desist letter sent to CERN.” (That last from someone named Peter-Paul Koch. The one about taking mass away is supposedly from Neil deGrasse Tyson. )

Real thigh-slappers, all right. But what actually is a Higgs boson, and why should it inspire this tremendous outpouring of scintillating wit? To understand that, it's necessary to understand some particle physics. This book, written at an undergraduate physics level, provides the basics of QCD and nuclear physics in a way that makes a clear connection to real physical phenomena (such as beta-decay, nuclear fission, antiparticles, and neutrinos), using lots of Feynman diagrams as well as the usual mathematical quantum mechanics. Unlike more abstract books, the equations are described in such a way as to give readers an insight into their physical implications, which makes the subject accessible to readers outside of physics as well. And yes, there are also a couple pages on the Higgs boson.

Useful appendices include introductions to perturbation theory, relativistic kinematics and gauge theories (all of which I would consider essential reading), as well as tables of particles and stable isotopes (which must also be read in order to fully understand the text). Best of all, there is a large section of answers to problems. The writing style is excellent.

Another book on the subject which looks good (although I haven't read it yet) is Nuclear Energy - Landolt-Börnstein: Numerical Data and Functional Relationships in Science and Technology - New Series / Advanced Materials and Technologies Group VIII, Vol. 3: Energy Technologies Subvolume B  by Alkan, Barré, Bock, Campbell, Grätz, Hamacher, Heinloth, Hoffmann, Hofmann, Hogan, Kröger, Kugeler, Kugeler, Logan, Nagamine, Olson, Paretzke, and Pöppe. Unfortunately, in addition to having a ridiculously long title, Springer wants $7,790 for it. I've been saving up one cent a day to buy it, but there are already 98 sarcastic customer reviews on one website, many of which are priceless.

Update, Jan. 25 2017 I just found out you can buy the entire 12-volume 2015 set for only $41,699.00! Woo-Hoo!

mar 16, 2013

book review score+5

An Introduction to Nuclear Astrophysics
Richard N. Boyd
U of Chicago, 2008, 422 pages

Finally, an astrophysics textbook for students who aren't really interested in the subject. At least, that's how this book starts out. The first hundred pages or so are a light review of astronomy and the various ground and space observatories, with lots of nice color pictures.

But, to quote Admiral Ackbar, it's a trap! If the reader gets lulled into complacency, it's too late. Suddenly, the student realizes that there is some real physics here, with all that that implies. Even though the treatment is not entirely mathematical, a thorough understanding of nuclear reactions, isospin, nuclear shell models, and similar topics is expected. For readers not up to date on these topics, I recommend reading something like Nuclear and Particle Physics: an Introduction (reviewed at left) first.

However, readers who are still alive after reading Chapter 3 will find a wealth of fascinating information about nuclear chemistry inside stars. For example, Boyd says [p.201] that the most basic and rate-limiting step in hydrogen burning, 1H + 1H → 2H + e+ + νe, has such a low cross-section that it is difficult to measure in our earthbound accelerators. Another pp-chain reaction, 3He(3He,4He)21H, has a Gamow peak in the Sun of only 24 keV, which is so low that it was impossible to measure it until 1996. (Boyd does explain what a Gamow peak is, and why this is important.) By the end of oxygen burning, 90% of the mass in the core of a star may consist of 28Si and 32S [p.235], as if it were composed of ‘glass.’ This silicon is then burned to heavier elements over the course of only a single day.

When a supernova explodes, every atom in the core is reduced to neutrons and protons. These particles react with each other to form α-particles, and react with 56Fe or other atoms to generate all the natural elements, along with transuranics and many other radioactive isotopes, in complex pathways known as the r- and s-processes [p.345].

You just can't live without knowing this stuff. But take care with this book: so far, there is no online errata list that I could find.

mar 30, 2013