Winner of the Canadian Science Writers Association Science in Society Book Award
One of the Best Physics Books of 2013, Cocktail Party Physics Blog, Scientific American
Detective thriller meets astrophysics in this adventure into neutrinos and the scientists who pursue them
The incredibly small bits of matter we call neutrinos may hold the secret to why antimatter is so rare, how mighty stars explode as supernovae, what the universe was like just seconds after the big bang, and even 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.
In Neutrino Hunters, the renowned astrophysicist and award-winning writer Ray Jayawardhana takes us on a thrilling journey into the shadowy world of neutrinos and the colorful lives of those who seek them. Demystifying particle science along the way, Jayawardhana tells a detective story with cosmic implications—interweaving tales of the sharp-witted theorist Wolfgang Pauli; the troubled genius Ettore Majorana; the harbinger of the atomic age Enrico Fermi; the notorious Cold War defector Bruno Pontecorvo; and the dynamic dream team of Marie and Pierre Curie. Then there are the scientists of today who have caught the neutrino bug, and whose experimental investigations stretch from a working nickel mine in Ontario to a long tunnel through a mountain in central Italy, from a nuclear waste site in New Mexico to a bay on the South China Sea, and from Olympic-size pools deep underground to a gigantic cube of Antarctic ice—called, naturally, IceCube.
As Jayawardhana recounts a captivating saga of scientific discovery and celebrates a glorious human quest, he reveals why the next decade of neutrino hunting will 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.