399 pages, 8 b/w plates, b/w illustrations
We are living in a Golden Age of Physics. Forty or so years ago, three brilliant, yet little-known scientists – an American, a Dutchman, and an Englishman – made breakthroughs which later inspired the construction of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva: a 27 kilometer-long machine which has already costed ten billion dollars, taken twenty years to build, and now promises to reveal how the universe itself came to be. The Infinity Puzzle is the inside story of those forty years of research, breakthrough, and endeavour. Peter Higgs, Gerard 't Hooft and James Bjorken, were the three scientists whose work is explored here, played out across the decades against a backdrop of high politics, low behaviour, and billion dollar budgets. Written from within by Frank Close, the eminent physicist and award-winning writer, The Infinity Puzzle also draws upons the author's close friendships with those involved.
"thoroughly researched and well-crafted narrative"
– New Scientist
"masterpiece[...]I never normally give 5 stars but for this I make an exception."
– John Gribbin, BBC Focus
"If [the Higgs Boson] does turn up, some people in Stockholm will likely be among the book's most avid readers [...] Close is especially diligent in investigating the priority of ideas and in crediting researchers who may have been left behind, either by the Nobel committee or by popular imagination [...] The result is a much more nuanced picture of history."
– Physics World
""The portion of my life for which I am known is rather small – three weeks in the summer of 1964." In these three weeks, physicist Peter Higgs wrote and then rewrote (it was initially rejected) a scientific paper that made him famous. In it he posited the existence of a massive boson, now known as the Higgs boson, which creates a field giving fundamental particles their mass. With typical modesty, he admits that "the amount of labour was rather small". But the consequences were astounding. One was the construction of the $10bn Large Hadron Collider, described by Frank Close as "the most remarkable scientific instrument in history". Its purpose was to find the Higgs boson and answer the question: why is there something rather than nothing? The announcement in July 2012 that it had been found was a historic moment. As Close says: "That equations written on paper can know nature and that 48 years later experiments can prove this, is awesome." Close is himself a physicist, and this is an insider's view of a complex but compelling story that changed our understanding of the nature of reality."
– The Guardian, Friday 13 September 2013
ACT I: GENESIS
- 1. The ultraviolet catastrophe
- 2. One in a million
- 3. The smile of the Cheshire Cat
ACT II:THE ACT(OR)S
- 4. The infinity puzzle
- 5. Broken symmetries
- 6. Missed opportunities
- 7. Peter Higgs
- 8. Enter Gerard 't Hooft
ACT III: REVELATIONS
- 9. BJ and the cosmic quarks
- 10. Quantum chromodynamics
- 11. Heavy light
- 12. The big machine
- 13. To infinity and beyond
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Frank Close is Professor of Theoretical Physics at Oxford University and has just retired from his position as head of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. During his career he has worked closely with CERN, home of the LHC. He is a well-established science writer, and his recent short books for OUP Nothing: A Very Short Introduction and Antimatter – have been very successful.