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Hydrogen: The Essential Element

By: John S Rigden

288 pages, Illus & tabs

Harvard University Press

Paperback | Dec 2003 | #142364 | ISBN: 0674012526
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NHBS Price: £17.95 $22/€20 approx
Hardback | Dec 2002 | #127954 | ISBN: 0674007387
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About this book

Rigden shows how this singular atom, the most abundant in the universe, has helped unify our understanding of the material world from the smallest scale, the elementary particles, to the largest, the universe itself.

Justly acclaimed for his lucid biography of physicist I. I. Rabi, Rigden here shifts his focus from person to problem, chronicling how one enduring conundrum--that of explaining the element hydrogen--has challenged two centuries of brilliant scientists...Readers will marvel that in its very first square, the periodic table holds so much science, so much history, so much humanity. -- Bryce Christensen Booklist 20020315 There can be no understanding of either the microscopic world or the cosmos at large without an understanding of hydrogen. Rigden's book is, on one level, a history of this most basic element, from its discovery in the 18th century to today's cutting-edge experiments...But Rigden is also telling us the story of modern physics...If you love physics, you'll enjoy this book. It is thoughtful, clever and rich in detail. -- Dan Falk National Post 20020413 There is almost magic eloquence in the practice and insights of science at its highest orders--which when transformed into the written word can produce splendid literature. A recent effort to do just that is Hydrogen...For many reasons, this book grabbed me from the start and held my attention to its finish...For its literary quality, its memorable parade of scientific superheroes and the richness of its material, this is a book I heartily recommend. -- Michael Pakenham Baltimore Sun 20020511 Rigden's easy narrative style provides one of the most accessible descriptions of the importance of laboratory experimentation in developing our current understanding of fundamental physics that I know of. Also, he demonstrates how theorists have at times led the way, sometimes with jumps of intuition, sometimes with reliance on fundamental notions like symmetry and sometimes with sheer stubborn persistence. Finally, readers will particularly benefit from seeing extremely important practical technologies that the original experimenters may never have dreamed of. For a picture of how physics really progresses--with gritty details filled in, along with ingenious experiments and glimpses of physicists who push the forefronts of knowledge--Rigden's brief ode to hydrogen is a refreshing alternative to some of the speculative musings dominating the physics sections of bookstores. -- Lawrence M. Krauss New York Times Book Review 20020714 Rigden is deeply enamored of physics, physicists and the historical anecdotes that bind them together. These passions are reflected in Hydrogen's format--short essays about different aspects of the hydrogen story, focusing on its physicist-heroes...Great stories, beautifully told...Rigden has done physicists a service with his touching love letters to their favorite atomic quarry. -- Graham Farmelo New Scientist 20020907 John S. Rigden...has taken on the challenge and produced an accessible, congenial book for the general reader...His book deserves praise for introducing a wider audience to the rich story of hydrogen. -- Peter Pesic American Scientist 20021101 Rigden writes well and admiringly of the characters involved and emphasises the benefits of pure research. -- Steven Poole The Guardian 20040124 What this slim biography of 280 pages lacks in size, it more than makes up for in scientific revelations. Its subject, hydrogen, beneath a mask of simplicity, is clearly an element on the move. Such is the importance of this primordial element, that its biography mirrors that of the universe. As science--at least the modern physics part of it--is such an international enterprise, and is not carried out in a social vacuum, the book subtly provides a brief history of the world...If you are an admirer of progress in science, this book is for you. -- Dozie Azubike Materials World 20050101 These chapters clearly demonstrate that hydrogen is an effective vehicle for presenting a good deal of modern physics This book is part history of science and part primer on fundamental physical concepts. Moreover it includes interesting vignettes about the scientists involved in these various discoveries, especially I. I. Rabi, the subject of an earlier biography by the same author The book is well written with clear explanations and good references. It should be accessible to an educated lay audience and of particular interest to chemists. -- A. Truman Schwartz Journal of Chemical Education 20040101


Prologue 1. In the Beginning: Hydrogen and the Big Bang 2. Hydrogen and the Unity of Matter: The Prout Hypothesis William Prout, 1815 3. Hydrogen and the Spectra of the Chemical Elements: A Swiss High School Teacher Finds a Pattern Johann Jakob Balmer, 1885 4. The Bohr Model of Hydrogen: A Paradigm for the Structure of Atoms Niels Bohr, 1913 5. Relativity Meets the Quantum in the Hydrogen Atom Arnold Sommerfeld, 1916 6. The Fine-Structure Constant: A Strange Number with Universal Significance Arnold Sommerfeld, 1916 7. The Birth of Quantum Mechanics: The Hydrogen Atom Answers the "Crucial Question" Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli, 1925-26 * Paul Dirac, 1925-26 8. The Hydrogen Atom: Midwife to the Birth of Wave Mechanics Erwin Schrodinger, 1926 9. The Hydrogen Atom and Dirac's Theory of the Electron Paul Dirac, 1928 10. Hydrogen Guides Nuclear Physicists: The Discovery of Deuterium Harold Urey, 1932 11. Hubris Meets Hydrogen: The Magnetic Moment of the Proton Otto Stern, 1933 12. The Magnetic Resonance Method: The Origin of Magnetic Resonance Imaging I. I. Rabi, 1938 13. New Nuclear Forces Required: The Discovery of the Quadrupole Moment of the Deuteron Norman F. Ramsey and I. I. Rabi, 1939 14. Magnetic Resonance in Bulk Matter (NMR) Edward M. Purcell and Felix Bloch, 1946 15. Hydrogen's Challenge to Dirac Theory: Quantum Electrodynamics as the Prototype Physical Theory Willis Lamb, 1947 16. The Hydrogen Atom Portends an Anomaly with the Electron I. I. Rabi, John E. Nafe, and Edward B. Nelson, 1946 17. Hydrogen Maps the Galaxy Edward M. Purcell and Harold Ewen, 1951 18. The Hydrogen Maser: A High-Precision Clock Norman F. Ramsey and Daniel Kleppner, 1960 19. The Rydberg Constant: A Fundamental Constant Johannes Robert Rydberg, 1890 * Theodor Hansch, 1992 20. The Abundance of Deuterium: A Check on Big Bang Cosmology David N. Schramm, 1945-1997 21. Antihydrogen: The First Antiatom 22. The Bose-Einstein Condensate for Hydrogen Satyendranath Bose, 1924 * Albert Einstein, 1925 * Eric A. Cornell and Carl E. Wieman, 1995 * Daniel Kleppner and Tom Greytak, 1998 23. Exotic Hydrogen-like Atoms: From Theory to Technology Epilogue Notes Acknowledgments Credits Index

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John S. Rigden is Director of Special Projects at the American Institute of Physics. He is the author of Rabi Scientist and Citizen (Harvard).

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