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The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe
     

The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe

4.2 18
by Frank Close, Jonathan Cowley (Narrated by)
 

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The second half of the twentieth century witnessed a scientific gold rush as physicists raced to chart the inner workings of the atom. The stakes were high: the questions were big, and there were Nobel Prizes and everlasting glory to be won. Many mysteries of the atom came unraveled, but one remained intractable-what Frank Close calls the "Infinity Puzzle."The

Overview

The second half of the twentieth century witnessed a scientific gold rush as physicists raced to chart the inner workings of the atom. The stakes were high: the questions were big, and there were Nobel Prizes and everlasting glory to be won. Many mysteries of the atom came unraveled, but one remained intractable-what Frank Close calls the "Infinity Puzzle."The problem was simple to describe. Although clearly very powerful, quantum field theory-the great achievement of the 1930s-was making one utterly ridiculous prediction: that certain events had an infinite probability of occurring. The solution is known as renormalization, which enables theory to match what we see in the real world. It has been a powerful approach, conquering three of the four fundamental forces of nature, and giving rise to the concept of the Higgs boson, the now much-sought particle that may be what gives structure to the universe. The Infinity Puzzle charts the birth and life of the idea, and the scientists, both household names and unsung heroes, who realized it.Based on numerous firsthand interviews and extensive research, The Infinity Puzzle captures an era of great mystery and greater discovery. Even if the Higgs boson is never found, renormalization-the pursuit of an orderly universe-has led to one of the richest and most productive intellectual periods in human history. With a physicist's expertise and a historian's care, Close describes the personalities and the competition, the dead ends and the sudden insights, in a story that will reverberate through the ages.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Close (The Cosmic Onion) explains the science behind the billion international effort to discover the Higgs boson: a fundamental subatomic particle that scientists believe could account for the origins of our universe. Under the auspices of CERN in Switzerland, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was constructed to accelerate particles near to the speed of light. By creating miniature matter/anti-matter collisions in "a small region of space, what the universe as a whole was like in the first moments after the Big Bang." Close voyages through the major scientific discoveries in high energy physics that began in 1928, when Paul Dirac married quantum mechanics with Special Relativity, laying the basis for the major technical advances from which we benefit in today's digital world. Along the way we meet some major figures in the field whose breakthroughs have illuminated the deepest mysteries of physics and cosmology, resulting in an engrossing history that's also accessible for a general audience. Agency: Conville & Walsh. (Dec.)
From the Publisher
"An engrossing history that's also accessible for a general audience." ---Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
Close (Theoretical Physics; Oxford Univ./Neutrino, 2010, etc.) chronicles the search for the elusive Higgs Boson particle (the "God Particle"). The author begins with Quantum Electrodynamics, Paul Dirac's groundbreaking but flawed 1928 model that unified Special Relativity and Quantum theory, and examines how it led to a succession of important discoveries: gauge invariance, renormalization, parity violations, the existence of quarks, symmetry breaking and the existence of new weird particles such as the Higgs Boson. Experiments to verify the theories needed larger and larger accelerators, with high-energy particles colliding at speeds of 300,000 kilometers per second. A major thread of the story is the interaction between the key scientists, many of whom the author knew personally, as they vied for recognition and the final accolade of a Nobel Prize. Close explains that it is not only necessary to make a great discovery but to be the first to publish it. Waiting for confirming results before publishing may prove disastrous in the competition. Throughout, the author chronicles the winners and losers in the annual Nobel sweepstakes, giving them recognition for their achievements and providing a lively thread for readers who may be struggling to comprehend the science. The story culminates with the Large Hadron Collider, which has been fully operational since 2009 but has yet to produce results. Its effort to verify the existence of the Higgs Boson by "recreat[ing] the conditions of the early universe in the laboratory" comes with a hefty price tag. In the author's view, the 60-year effort to confront "the paradox of the Infinity Puzzle has brought us to the threshold of being able to address the question of existence itself." Close ably demonstrates the stakes in this perhaps misplaced, hubristic effort.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781452657080
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
03/26/2012
Edition description:
MP3 - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.60(d)

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From the Publisher
"An engrossing history that's also accessible for a general audience." —-Publishers Weekly

Meet the Author

Frank Close is the author of several books, including Antimatter, Neutrino, The Void, and The New Cosmic Onion.

Jonathan Cowley is a British actor living in Los Angeles who has received AudioFile Earphones Awards for his narrations of The Science of Evil by Simon Baron-Cohen and The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart.

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The Infinity Puzzle 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
DrZeus More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting read about the development of quantum mechanics in the mid to late 20th century. While the physics involved is not always easily understood, the personalities and politicking involved in the awarding of the Nobel prize are quite interesting. Some folks seem to have been overlooked (James Bjorking is the primary of these) while others seemed to have gotten one by totting their own horn.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Frank covers the subject of Quantum Theory in great details. He includes a lot of history about those involved in evaluating the theory. It is a bit heavy reading if not interested in atomic science. Not for the casual reader.
Tunguz More than 1 year ago
Since its completion in 2008, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has been the focus of a lot of news coverage. It is by far the largest scientific project in history, and very likely the last such project for the foreseeable future. And yet, it has been fairly difficult to explain to the general public the exact purpose of LHC and what sorts of questions are the scientists trying to answer by culling over its experimental results. One of the things that LHC is trying to find is the putative &ldquo;Higgs boson,&rdquo; whose existence has been postulated for almost half a century, and without which much of our understanding of particle physics would be incomplete. However, the reasons for the need of the Higgs boson are very hard to express in the layman&rsquo;s terms. It is the particle that gives all the other particles mass, and without it (or something like it) it would be impossible to justify many of the theoretical results that have proven so incredibly insightful over the past few decades. Some popularizes of science have even resorted to calling it &ldquo;the God particle,&rdquo; which in my opinion is one of the most unfortunate and gratuitously obscure &ldquo;descriptions&rdquo; of any phenomenon in all of science. In &ldquo;The Infinity Puzzle&rdquo; Frank Close delves deep into the theoretical background that has lead to the postulation of the Higgs Boson. Higgs Boson turns out to be an indispensible ingredient for the theoretical formulation of the electroweak theory &ndash; the unified theory of electromagnetic and weak interactions. The modern formulation of that theory, the so-called Glashow-Weinberg-Salam model, has come at the end of a long series of abortive attempts at unification, and has been followed by even a longer succession of theoretical and experimental verifications. The discovery of the Higgs Boson would be the final validation of that model, and it would also potentially shed some light on the rest of the Standard Model of particles and fields. This book primarily focuses on personal histories of many of the actors that have contributed to the electroweak theory and experiment, going all the way back to the middle of the twentieth century. These are fascinating personal stories that have been long overdue for a comprehensive popular treatment. Even people like myself whose professional careers have been influenced by the electroweak and similar theories (known as &ldquo;gauge theories&rdquo;) have a rudimentary knowledge of their historical development. However, I was hoping that this book would be more focused on physics in its own right, and much less concerned with history. I&rsquo;ve read several other books by Frank Close (&ldquo;Nothing: A very Short introduction,&rdquo; &ldquo;Neutrino&rdquo;) and from reading those I&rsquo;ve come impressed by Close&rsquo;s ability to present complex physical ideas in an accessible and highly informative manner. &ldquo;The Infinity Puzzle&rdquo; turns out to be a very different kind of book. Aside from being overly historical, it also spends too much time on &ldquo;inside baseball&rdquo; minutia and arcana that even those who are inside baseball will probably just skip over. I am really not interested in getting the information straight on who presented which scientific talk in what form back in the early 1970s, and I can&rsquo;t imagine that most readers of this book would care much about this either. This is a very interesting and accessible book, but I am afraid that the choice of topics might be too recondite for the kind of audience that this book is aimed at.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ilamir More than 1 year ago
First, to address the one negative review. Frank Close is a physicist, please get your facts straight before posting review in the future. Secondly, as a lover of physics (and holder of a BS in the subject), I found this book to be very interesting. Not only does it explain Quantum Electrodynamics well it provides a great story about the work in the field.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Now that you found #3 search one diary of a wimpy kid
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Obviously, the author is not a physicist. He creates his own jargon and gets lost in it. A few good views though.