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The Perfect Wave: With Neutrinos at the Boundary of Space and Time

Popular Science

By: Heinrich Päs (Author)

276 pages, illustrations

Harvard University Press

Hardback | Feb 2014 | #216440 | ISBN-13: 9780674725010
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £19.95 $24/€22 approx

About this book

Almost weightless and able to pass through the densest materials with ease, neutrinos seem to defy the laws of nature. But these mysterious particles may hold the key to our deepest questions about the universe, says physicist Heinrich Päs. In The Perfect Wave, Päs serves as our fluent, deeply knowledgeable guide to a particle world that tests the boundaries of space, time, and human knowledge. The existence of the neutrino was first proposed in 1930, but decades passed before one was detected. Päs animates the philosophical and scientific developments that led to and have followed from this seminal discovery, ranging from familiar topics of relativity and quantum mechanics to more speculative theories about dark energy and supersymmetry.

Many cutting-edge topics in neutrino research – conjectures about the origin of matter, extra-dimensional spacetime, and the possibility of time travel – remain unproven. But Päs describes the ambitious projects under way that may confirm them, including accelerator experiments at CERN and Fermilab, huge subterranean telescopes designed to detect high-energy neutrino radiation, and the Planck space observatory scheduled to investigate the role of neutrinos in cosmic evolution. As Päs's history of the neutrino illustrates, what is now established fact often sounded wildly implausible and unnatural when first proposed. The radical side of physics is both an exciting and an essential part of scientific progress, and The Perfect Wave renders it accessible to the interested reader.

"Some science books are good because they tell you a lot about science. Some are good because they present their examples and argument in very well written prose. A few do both. The Perfect Wave is one of the few [...] I can highly recommend The Perfect Wave as a pleasant and provocative way to gain insight into the way physicists think, and into the way the universe (probably) works."
– John Gribbin, Wall Street Journal

"Päs for his part, places neutrinos within the broader context of contemporary high theory and delves deeper into the science. Physics buffs will relish his explanations, and not just of established ideas such a the seesaw mechanism. Neutrinos, Päs explains, may offer a way to probe the extra dimensions of space postulated by some 'theories of everything.' The puny particles' weirdness, it seems, knows no end."
The Economist

"The ghostly neutrino – a mutable, almost massless particle that can pass through dense substances – stars in this scientific history. Theoretical physicist Heinrich Päs surfs the decades of dazzling research since Wolfgang Pauli first posited the particle in 1930. Päs revisits key theorists such as Ettore Majorana, and lays out the work of groundbreaking labs from Los Alamos in New Mexico, where Fred Reines and Clyde Cowan first detected neutrinos in the early 1950s, to today's vast IceCube neutrino observatory in Antarctica."

"Takes readers for a wild ride in pursuit of the neutrino – part ghost, part outlaw, part Holy Grail to theoretical physicists [...] From vast laboratories deep underground to the cutting edge Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory nearing completion in frigid Antarctica, Päs reveals the 'world of madmen, dreamers, and visionaries' who pursue the neutrino and its place in theoretical physics."
Publishers Weekly

"Entertaining and evocative, Päs has written a breezy, readable account of particle physics, especially neutrino physics, in a lucid, lively narrative."
– Sandip Pakvasa, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, University of Hawai'i at Ma-noa


    1. Dawn Patrol in Honolulu
    2. Eleusis, Plato, Magic Mushrooms
    3. Quantum Physics: The Multiverse of Parmenides
    4. Black Dots on a White Background: The Particle World
    5. Beyond the Desert: Symmetries and Unification
    6. From Symmetry Breaking to Supersymmetry
    7. Birth of an Outlaw: The Neutrino
    8. Nuclear Decays a Thousand Meters Underground
    9. New Physics Is Falling from the Skies
    10. Cosmic Connections
    11. Neutrinos: Key to the Universe
    12. Extra Dimensions, Strings, and Branes
    13. Einstein’s Heritage: What Is Time?
    14. How to Build a Time Machine
    15. Against Hawking and the Timekeepers
    16. Into the Wilderness of the Terascale
    17. Epilogue: Major Tom and the Singing Socrates
    Further Reading

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Heinrich Päs is Professor of Theoretical Particle Physics at Technische Universität Dortmund, Germany.

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