The incredibly small bits of matter we call neutrinos may hold the secret to why antimatter is so rare, how mighty stars explode as supernovas and what the universe was like just seconds after the big bang. They even illuminate the inner workings of our own planet. For more than eighty years, adventurous minds from around the world have been chasing these ghostly particles, trillions of which pass through our bodies every second. Extremely elusive and difficult to pin down, neutrinos are not unlike the brilliant and eccentric scientists who doggedly pursue them.
Ray Jayawardhana recounts in Neutrino Hunters a captivating saga of scientific discovery and celebrates a glorious human quest, revealing why the next decade of neutrino hunting could redefine how we think about physics, cosmology and our lives on Earth.
While the Higgs boson has dominated recent physics news, astrophysicist Jayawardhana (Strange New Worlds) directs attention toward neutrinos, the pathologically shy elementary particles that offer a window into supernovas and may help answer questions about antimatter, dark matter, dark energy, and the early universe. With no electric charge and very little mass, neutrinos seldom interact with matter, for the most part passing untouched through the Earth itself; detection requires looking for particles created in the wake of the scant interactions that do occur. With clarity and wry humor, Jayawardhana relates how Wolfgang Pauli invented the neutrino to explain where missing energy went during beta decay, then later bet a case of champagne that it would never be detected experimentally. After neutrinos were finally observed for the first time in 1956, scientists expanded the hunt from Earth to space, examining the rays emitted by the Sun. From deep underground in South Dakota s Homestake Gold Mine to Antarctica s IceCube, currently the world s largest neutrino detector, Jayawardhana vividly illuminates both the particle that has baffled and surprised scientists, and the researchers who hunt it.