The Neutrino Hunters by Ray Jayawardhana

18684781Initial thoughts on this book – it’s much lighter than the other Physics books I have read recently (Dreams of a Final Theory by Steven Weinberg and Strange Beauty by George Johnson).  The introduction references The Big Bang Theory and sci-fi books by Greg Bear.  The tone feels a world away from the manifesto of Weinberg and the heavy weight biography of Gell-Mann.  This is probably a good thing – Jayawardhana covers physics right up to the time of writing, and many of these experiments aren’t yet at the stage of results and are light on entertaining anecdotes, so the style helps keep things pacy.

With my background in Physics, I would actually be interested in more detail on the theory behind neutrinos but Jayawardhana largely leaves this out for quick summaries of the concepts.  In truth this is probably a better option, for the flow of the book and readability for a general audience.  The personalities involved, their motivations and the surroundings of the experiments and theory developments are described more than the actual theory itself – but these are of great interest: people like Pauli and Dirac, experiments like Ice Cube in the Antarctic or SNOLab in a Canadian nickel mine.  These provide more than enough material to fill the book.

The book inevitably tails off a little towards the end when we reach unfinished experiments and possible applications (detecting neutrinos to discover illegal nuclear material, for example) and feels like a little bit of a mish mash of all the ideas and experiments that the author declined to give more prominence in the main chapters of the book.  There are some of these stories that could be covered in further detail – there is just a short paragraph, for instance, on Samuel Ting and AMS.

Neutrino Hunters stays short and sweet though – an enthusiastic introduction to some of the biggest topics in particle physics today.


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