Beyond The God Particle by Leon Lederman and Christopher Hill (book review).

November 1, 2013 | By | Reply More

Considering what is said about the confusion calling the Higgs boson the God Particle, I’m surprised by the title, ‘Beyond The God Particle’, was used by authors Leon Lederman and Christopher Hill. However, the name is stuck in the public consciousness and I doubt if the name will change that quickly. The example of a visitor to Fermilab confusing the God Particle with something to do with religion in the introduction also shows some people do not really understanding what it means. This book goes some way to restoring the balance, although whether people such as that lady would pick up this book is debatable.


We owe a lot to particle science. The creation of the world-wide web came about as a means for particle physicists to contact each other over the airwaves and later became the Internet as we know and love today. The authors also point out that funding science being cut back can also have a damaging effect on technological development, especially when the likes of the American Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) was abandoned when funding was cut. Although without that happening, CERN wouldn’t have been created. I see what they mean, though. If you look at all the side-benefits from the space programme you can see their point that there is a need for research for its own sake as you get far more out than the money you put into scientific research. Apply that argument in America whenever the Senate refuses funding for those living across the pond.

There is a recap in how the study of the atom developed back in 1897 by the discovery of x-rays, which later led to electrons, protons and neutrons. I wish they dealt a bit more with nuclear decay although a later part of the book goes into this instead of at the front of the book. Ernest Rutherford led the way but it was Niels Bohr at the start of the 20th century that determined how the atom looked. If you want to look at the composition of the atom, then you have to take it apart to look at the couple hundred particles it contains which brings us up to CERN.

Although I think you might need at least O’level knowledge of physics to grasp the intricacies of the explanations of particle science, the authors explain well and supply so many diagrams that even if the maths escapes you, then you should have a grasp of what is going on. At its most basic level, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is essentially a large spinning nutcracker to break up an atom and identify all the particles if contains and find that elusive Higgs boson. Size really does matter because it needs a lot of energy, speed and distance to produce the velocity to break up an atom. Many of the particles only last a hundredth millionth if a second so much of it is recording where they’ve been than sitting them in situ.

The significance of the Higgs boson is how it contributes to mass and the authors spend a lot of pages explaining this. When you consider that the atom is so much empty space, you have to wonder where mass comes from that becomes all things at our scale. The Higgs bosun is just like a drop of glue keeping the various charged particles together which is largely how it was predicted originally and what to look for. The fact that it was discovered on the second attempt and that the LHC is currently being modified to examine smaller particles to see what the Higgs boson itself is made of in 2015 shows the value of successful research.

There is a lot of interesting information given in this book. I mean, we’ve all taken for granted that Einstein’s formula to be E=MC2 but really it is actually E2=M2C2. As the authors point out, there are two square roots to numbers and without that you don’t get negative energy and we know by evidence that there is both negative energy and positive particles out there although we normally call it anti-matter.

The aforementioned Fermilab is still doing research and they are looking for a better name for one of their experiments than ‘Project X’ which is the building of a proton accelerator which can be used to study isotopes and neutrinos. As Alice, as in Wonderland, keeps coming up in this chapter, you would have thought they would have called it Project Alice although no doubt someone would think it was named after a real person so no white rabbits. Other projects that they are also working on concern the reduction of half-lifes of the more toxic radioactive waste from nuclear reactors and developing thorium reactors, something I discussed from another book, ‘Superfuel’, earlier in the year. As this is where both authors work, one can hardly blame them for reminding people that there is more than one experiment going on in the world.

Although much of the time, the words ‘quantum mechanics’ is never used, if you read this book, you will have extended your knowledge about the subject, including how the various particles spin, have two charges and often a neutral charge and that them being called a colour is often to differentiate them from each other. I was hoping that they might say how the neutral versions of these particles happened or do they split to become the two charged versions but that probably shows how much attention I’m giving this subject. No doubt somewhere down the line it will be discovered that this is what keeps the three types of particles together until they are broken apart. It’s no wonder why the physicists feel they have to dig a little deeper yet.

The biggest fault is the size of the footnotes at the back of the book and where so much extra useful information is given which could have easily been given in the main part of the book. When you have so many numbers identifying isotopes, it can be too easy to miss the number markers.

Saying that, if you want an up-to-date assessment of the CERN research and other particle science experiments, as well as being briefed on the history of the atom and the people who toiled looking ever smaller, then this book will more than fill that need. If you’re into writing Science Fiction using the subject then this book is also ideal for getting your facts right.

GF Willmetts

October 2013

(pub: Prometheus Books. 324 page illustrated small enlarged paperback. Price: $24.95 (US), $26.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-61614-801-0. Ebook: Price: $12.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-802-7)

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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