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How to Find a Higgs Boson—and Other Big Mysteries in the World of the Very Small

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The history of particle physics, the hunt for the most elusive particle, and the fundamental questions the search has inspired

How did physicists combine talent and technology to discover the Higgs boson, the last piece in our inventory of the subatomic world? How did the Higgs change our understanding of the universe? And now, nearly a decade after its detection, what comes next? Answering these questions, Ivo van Vulpen—a CERN particle physicist and member of the team behind the detection—invites us on a journey to the frontiers of our knowledge.
Enjoy van Vulpen’s accessible explanation of the history of particle physics and of concepts like quantum mechanics and relativity—and ponder his inquiries regarding the search for new particles (to explain dark matter), a new force (to combine the existing fundamental forces), and new phenomena (undiscovered dimensions of space). This is a lively account of work at the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator, with inspiring personal reflections on humanity’s discoveries deeper and deeper into the world of the very small.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published February 18, 2018

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Ivo van Vulpen

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Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews
Profile Image for Inkslinger.
232 reviews38 followers
February 21, 2020
How to Find a Higgs Boson and Other Big Mysteries in the World of Very Small by Ivo Van Vulpen

ARC provided by NetGalley and Yale University Press. All opinions are mine and freely given.

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02-21: 'How to Find a Higgs Boson and Other Big Mysteries in the World of Very Small' by CERN particle physicist, Ivo Van Vulpen, is a surprisingly fun romp through some of the most complex discoveries in the history of the field.

The various discoveries and theories are told in layman's terms, anecdotes, and analogies even the most novice reader could enjoy. Initially, I had found the text to be overly simplified and a little repetitive, but as I read on.. I realized the author was setting the tone. He intended to get into some relatively heavy topics (no pun intended), even leading up to what he referred to as "one of the most abstract new concepts in physics," and wanted anyone picking the book up to be able to make it through to the end with him.. with a new understanding of the ideas and experiences he planned to share.

There are a few things especially, that I think the average reader will get a kick out of.. like the way the author shares the practical applications of many of the discoveries that have been made throughout the years. Though his analogies, he explains things such as how energy is produced in power plants.. also how electric engines like the Tesla uses (while better than fossil fuel engines), wind turbines, etc.. are not as "squeaky clean" as we think they are because they still have to get that power from traditional sources.

He goes in depth about the presence of particle accelerators and other quantum mechanics developments in our daily lives, via PET scanners, X-Ray technology, old televisions, computer monitors, and more. He even breaks down how they work, as well as the process of creating, destroying, and transforming particles entirely.. turning them into new.. and in some cases, undiscovered particles like his team did the Higgs Boson back in 2012.

"For example, an MRI scan of the knee of a particle physicist who has always been an avid amateur footballer may show that his cartilage is worn and that he should spend his time writing books instead of dreaming of a future on the FC Barcelona first team."

What I found fun, in addition to his sense of humor, were the analogies he sometimes chose to give the reader a better understanding of the scope of a the subject. Like the true physical size of both the series of particle detectors (one of which is a camera the size of the White House in Washington, D.C.) and the Large Hadron Collider, what it's like maneuvering those protons through it, what the equivalent force of that mass in real world terms, and additionally the ways scientists are now trying to capture evidence of dark matter through labs in underground mines and caves.. designed to avoid cosmic ray interference and hopefully get a glimpse of what they seek.

If you have even a remote interest in the field of particle physics or quantum mechanics, whether you're a novice or you consider yourself reasonably well read, I think you'll find something enjoyable about this book. I know I did.


02-20: For the record, I spoke far too soon. I see what he's doing. This is why he's the brilliant physicist. lol

02-17: I started this and a fictional title at the same time. Normally the two go pretty well together for me, but so far.. this is a bit of an elementary approach to the topic. That's not bad of course.. for someone who's a complete novice to it.. but it hasn't presented anything particularly eye-opening yet.. even in theory. We shall see..
Profile Image for Sid Nuncius.
1,128 reviews95 followers
January 22, 2020
I enjoyed How To Find A Higgs Boson. It was a bit slow to get going for me, but the later chapters were excellent.

Ivo van Vulpen is a working physicist who was a part of the team at CERN which confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, so he knows what he’s talking about. He also writes well (and has chosen a good translator in David McKay) so the book is both accurate and readable. I did find the early chapters a little discursive and off the point, delving into the history of physics, back to Faraday’s work on electromagnetic induction. Some of this is necessary for context, of course, but there have been a great many excellent books on all this and I could have done with a slightly more truncated and tightly focused approach.

Around half way, though, things got really interesting with van Vulpen’s excellent descriptions of the intricate, complex processes involved in the CERN project and also his obvious love for and pride in the whole enterprise. Perhaps a few pages on how the results are analysed statistically to a level which could be considered proof isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I found this section fascinating throughout, and also the final chapter on what we still don’t understand and how physicists are trying to tackle these difficult questions.

I have some knowledge of physics which certainly helped, but I think this would be suitable for a non-scientist who is willing to put in a bit of brainwork. Van Vulpen keeps the mathematics to a minimum and the rewards are well worth the effort. It’s a readable, enjoyable and rewarding book which I can recommend.

(My thanks to Yale University Press for an ARC via NetGalley.)
Profile Image for Boudewijn.
647 reviews80 followers
May 25, 2019
Formuleangst is onnodig, schrijft Ivo van Vulpen in dit boek, De Melodie van de Natuur. Je zult dan ook weinig formules tegenkomen, behalve eentje: de formule die het Standaard Model van de quantumfysica beschrijft en volgens Ivo de “melodie van de natuur vormt”.

Ivo neemt ons mee op een reis door de kwantummechanica. We beginnen met Ernst Rutherford, die het atoommodel beschrijft. Verderop komen de quarks en leptonen aan bod om uiteindelijk tot het Standaard Model te komen. Het laatste gedeelte van het boek wordt besteed aan de jacht op het Higgs-Boson deeltje, waarmee de massa verklaard kan worden.

Nergens in dit boek wordt het te theoretisch, en Ivo beweegt zich dan ook met reuzestappen door de materie. Dit is niet erg, want het boek blijft daardoor uitermate leesbaar. Het boek zet de beschrijving van de deeltjes tegen de achtergrond van de vier elementaire krachten, waarbij de zwaartekracht de vreemde eend in de bijt blijft.

Al met al een uiterst leesbaar en interessant boek en aan te raden voor iedereen met een interesse in de natuurkunde, met of zonder formuleangst.
Profile Image for Verity Halliday.
346 reviews12 followers
January 30, 2020
How to Find a Higgs Boson... by Ivo van Vulpen is an accessible, chattily written book about the world of the elementary particles making up atoms and the search to find them. There are a few mathematical formulae, but these are explained well and they aren't too scary for a non-specialist.

As Richard Feynman is supposed to have said: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." The author made me feel like I did understand a little and so therefore I suppose I don't, but I feel more prepared to describe the limits of my understanding. His enthusiasm for science and for the CERN Large Hadron Collider collaboration was infectious and he made me eager to find out what's next to be discovered. What is the deal with gravity? What is dark matter and is it really a thing? It's an interesting time to be alive.

The book is translated from the original Dutch, and it seems like the translator has done a good job.

I recommend this book for everyone who is interested in the subject, especially for non-physicists.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Amit Verma.
Author 4 books9 followers
January 23, 2020
Recently I have been reading a lots of books about quantum mechanics and physics. I find them wonderful and eye opening.
This is one such book that opens gates of large hydron colloider to general reader.
It is exhaustive yet highly readable treatise of Geneva based particle accelerator which discovered Higgs boson.
First their is introduction to theories related to particle physics and then their is introduction to particles themselves.
It is fascinating to discover scientists who deciphered atomic structure.
Then finally how scientists work at LHC, Geneva to study new particles.
Power of the book is its comprehensibility.
It makes most of the things recognisable.
How our universe works is quite different when we reach subatomic level.
Highly recommended to science lovers.
Thanks netgalley and publisher for review copy.
1 review1 follower
March 7, 2018
Leuk om te lezen, simpel en niet erg diepgaand. Hierdoor vooral geschikt als casual read of voor mensen die nog nooit hebben gehoord van deeltjesfysica.
Erg prettig geschreven, veel verwijzingen en voorbeelden.
Wat dit boek anders maakt is de informatie over de onderzoeken zelf, hoe het in zijn werk gaat om bijvoorbeeld een nieuw deeltje te ontdekken.

Al met al, heb je interesse in deeltjesfysica maar heb je geen ambitie je hoofd te breken over complexe theorieën of heb je nog nooit iets gelezen over deeltjesfysica. Dan is dit boek zeker een aanrader!
Profile Image for Herwin Thole.
33 reviews2 followers
January 16, 2021
Toegankelijk geschreven boek over de natuurkundige zoektocht naar steeds kleinere deeltjes, die uitmondt in de vondst van het Higgs-boson door de Large Hadron Collider. De heldere metaforen voor complexe problemen zijn goed bedacht en verduidelijken een hoop.

Wel is het boek vooral bedoeld voor mensen met weinig tot geen kennis van de deeltjesfysica. De eerste helft is een opsomming van de ontdekkingen in het verleden en de kennis die de wetenschap gaandeweg vergaard heeft. Een mooi overzicht voor het grote publiek, maar een beetje saai als je al wat meer weet van natuurkunde.

De tweede helft van het boek ligt dichter bij het heden, het onderzoek dat nu gebeurt en de vragen die nog openstaan. Dat merk je aan de schrijfstijl van Van Vulpen. Hij is enthousiaster en laat meer zijn eigen visie doorschemeren.
283 reviews3 followers
July 15, 2022
This was an incredibly fun book to read. The narrative may be too simplistic for people who are knowledgeable about this field but it was just the right amount of story-telling, abstractness, and simple mathematics to make this difficult (for me) to understand field of fundamental science a bit more understandable. The author (and great credit to his translator, too) have taken the story on how the very particles that make up atoms were discovered up to and including the Higgs Boson and made it accessible to those of us who struggle with getting our minds around quantum theory, space-time dimensions, and the concepts of high speed hadron collisions. It is also a "feel good" story about how international collaboration can really work for the betterment of mankind. I highly recommend it.
1 review
August 27, 2021
Goed boek, duidelijke uitleg
Toch een aantal opvallende schrijffouten.
Profile Image for Tessa.
140 reviews11 followers
March 4, 2020
I picked up this book because I was really excited to hear more about the Higgs boson discovery from a scientist who actually was a part of it, and I also hoped to get a clearer picture of particle physics in general. Both of these things happened! However, at what cost.

The first section is about scientific discovery, its various impacts and applications on society, why it's important, and how discoveries often lead to more questions, and is followed by what is basically an AP chem review. The next section covers the Standard Model and the path that got us to it, culminating with the nigh miraculous success of the discovery of the Higgs boson. The last chapter highlights some of the still unanswered questions in particle physics.

I'm not really the right person for this book because it's intended for a non-scientific audience and I'm about to get my engineering degree. Given this, it makes sense that I found the first half of the book, which focused on the nature of scientific research along with how some notable discoveries were impactful, to be very boring. I found most of the material in this section to be either tangential, because I didn't care, or redundant, because I already knew it. I enjoyed the second half of the book much more since it was about modern particle physics and the Higgs boson discovery, which were the topics I was actually interested in reading. By the end I felt like I understood what an impressive and profound accomplishment the discovery of the Higgs boson was and could probably have a 10min conversation about particle physics with my dad. I personally wish the book wasn't quite so high-level but it made for a light and more casual read, definitely accessible for a wide range of people. I also wish he'd put a graphic of the Standard Model at the beginning so I could refer back to it, like the Periodic Table in the front of chemistry books? I ended up googling it and keeping that tab open while reading.

Also, and this is just a personal gripe, I'm always annoyed when an author talks about people with a certain occupation as inherently different/special e.g. artists, poets, scientists in this case. Like, sure a scientist may have some different skill sets but they're also just people, and the work they do is their job. It makes me uncomfortable because now "scientist" is this exclusive, exceptional identity that someone was born into and will always exemplify, instead of just a way to describe one aspect of someone's life at this current time.

Overall, I thought the first half of the book was dead boring but enjoyed the second half enough that I don't regret reading it. I'd recommend it for "a non-scientific audience" aka anyone who dipped out of STEM classes as soon as legally possible.
Profile Image for Yzabel Ginsberg.
Author 3 books102 followers
March 26, 2020
[I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A good, solid read about particle physics in general, and the confirmation of the Higgs boson at CERN. The beginning may seem deceptively simple for a layperson who already knows the basics, but it's obviously here to pave the way for what follows, which goes a little more into the nitty-gritty technical details. Maybe someone who really doesn't know anything about physics might find it difficult to follow, although I'm not convinced; the way it's explained should take care of that. It was really interesting, and a testament, too, to what a venture such as CERN can accomplish.

Also, yet another proof that we really, really need to stop funding research and experiments according to "how much money we can make off it", because if this keeps happening, we'll just stop making new discoveries altogether. Another interesting side of this book was how it illustrated in which (often unexpectedly) physics CAN actually lead to very useful applications, even though the research may have appeared as random at first--PET scanners, for instance: who would've known?

The author's writing is easy to follow, both when it comes to the book's structure and to its translation. I'll have no qualms recommending it to non-physicists, and to physicists as well, come to think of it.
Profile Image for Shelby Bollen.
652 reviews6 followers
March 14, 2020
Science nonfiction books will always be one of my favourite genres. Even though science is my 9-5, I still love learning new stuff from other fields of science that aren’t my norm.

It’s definitely aimed towards those without a physics background, but I felt that the author explained everything well. I loved how he related particle physics to everyday modern technologies as this helps the reader fully understand/appreciate the relevance of the science upon their lives. The descriptions of life as a researcher were great, and I found that I was able to relate even though I’m a biochemist and not a particle physicist!

Overall, I recommend this book to those without a physics individual’s who have experience in this area may find this a little too simple at times. Very cool cover too!

Many thanks to the author, publisher and Netgalley for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for GONZA.
6,360 reviews108 followers
February 18, 2020
Till the forth chapter I understood everything, then everything became nebulous like the electrons around the nucleus :) Anyway even if I struggled trough the book, it was one very well explained book and one of the easiest to read about the subject.

Fino al quarto capitolo avevo capito tutto, poi é diventato tutto confuso e nebuloso, come gli elettroni intorno al nucleo ;) Comunque, anche se piú a fatica, era decisamente un libro ben spiegato questo, specialmente se paragonato ad altri che ho letto in precedenza.

Profile Image for Cristie Underwood.
2,275 reviews56 followers
February 23, 2020
As someone that has always struggled with science and anything remotely relative to it, I hesitantly read this on the recommendation of someone. I was thoroughly surprised at the author's ability to make physics easy to understand. I found it interesting that electric cars and wind turbines are not as good for the environment as they are advertised to be. This book was really eye-opening in so many ways and the author held my interest so much that I was encouraged to do further research online after reading the book!
1,699 reviews22 followers
March 6, 2020
This is pretty good and accessible to everyone. It's told with humor and examples, and info is easy to grasp. Readers are likely to learn some interesting and new things that will stick with them for a while.

Thanks very much for the review copy!!
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