Particle physics experiments

The Matter of Everything, Twelve Experiences That Changed Our World: Rich Rewards

Book title:
The Matter of Everything, Twelve Experiences That Changed Our World


Suzie Sheey


Guide price:

Our understanding of the universe, the world we inhabit, and the nature of reality has been shaped by information gleaned from thousands of scientific experiments performed throughout our history.

Suzie Sheehy, a science communicator and particle physicist at the universities of Oxford and Melbourne, describes the people and science behind 12 experiments she says changed the world.

Those of us who struggled with physics in school may cringe at the thought of revisiting the subject by reading about cathode ray experiments or the research into the photoelectric effect that are discussed at length here. Yet, as is the case with experimental physicists, rich rewards await those who show bravery, patience and perseverance.

Many of us may have little or no interest in the discovery of quarks, leptons and subatomic neutrinos. But the passion the author brings to his 12 tales, his ability to communicate difficult scientific concepts in clear terms, and his explanations of why it matters to us all draw the reader in.

The author also makes a tremendous case for the need for taxpayers and governments to support curiosity-driven research, even when it appears to have little immediate real-world relevance. The case in point, she argues, is particle physics, an obscure field where scientists search for particles smaller than an atom.

Finding subatomic particles invisible to the human eye or existing microscopes was a huge scientific challenge that required money, scientific brains and thousands of experts working together.

Throughout the 20th century, protons and neutrons were found, and then even smaller particles like quarks and neutrinos.

The knowledge gained from these Big Science or even Mega Science companies has led to MRI scanners to diagnose disease, radiation therapy to treat disease, and web and cloud computing.

The author begins with the discovery of the electron by JJ Thompson in 1897 and ends with the Large Hadron Collider, which started in 2009, and the discovery of the Higgs boson particle.

She points out that although a lot about the subatomic world has been revealed, it is a scientific journey that has only just begun. Scientists don’t know what 95% of the universe is made of, and they’re sure there are other particles that haven’t been discovered.

This next step, she says, will involve even bigger projects leading to exciting new knowledge and technologies that will improve our lives.