Particle physics experiments

How Curiosity, Physics and Unlikely Experiments Change the World by Suzie Sheehy

Suzie Shey. Knopf, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-5256-5875-7

Physicist Sheehy debuts with a terrific story of experiments that changed the course of science. In a quick and accessible account, Sheehy powerfully demonstrates how “our view of the smallest constituents of nature has changed rapidly over the past 120 years”. Although late 19th century scientists “agreed that the subject of physics was nearly over”, the discovery of X-rays showed that the universe still had more secrets to uncover. A long series of experiments followed: around 1900, Max Planck carried out important work on the “quantification of energy”, Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden discovered the structure of atoms a few years later, and the beginning of the 1910 saw the discovery of cosmic rays. Sheehy also examines the inventions made possible by each discovery, including semiconductors, the World Wide Web, archaeological dating methods, and CT scans. Along the way come fascinating profiles of scientists, including several women who have been omitted from the story (Bibha Chowdhuri, for example, found evidence of “two new subatomic particles” in the 1930s). With hard-hitting writing and vivid historical detail, Sheehy brilliantly captures the curiosity that fuels science, the frustration of “false starts and failures,” and the thrill of finding answers that are sure to raise more questions. This is pop science at its finest. Agent: Chris Wellbelove, Aitken Alexander Assoc. (Jan.)