A Map of the Invisible – Journeys into Particle Physics by Jon Butterworth

(Available from Amazon)
I have been on a journey myself over the last few years. It started when I read Professor Butterworth’s previous book, Smashing Physics, which tells the story of the discovery of the Higg’s boson at CERN, from the perspective of the experimentalists (Jon is an experimentalist who splits his time between UCL in London, and CERN in Geneva). The book got me interested in physics again.
(I’m a Chemist; an organic chemist. When I started University in the early 80s I thought I was going to be a Physicist; but I couldn’t hack it; I became a Chemist instead – but I don’t regret it)
I knew enough to appreciate the story Jon told, but not enough to really grasp the detail. So, I set about looking into some of these areas, starting with Special Relativity and then General Relativity (I’ve blogged about this here). Contrary to my expectations, General Relativity was at least graspable, even if the maths was very unfamiliar to me. Given this apparent success, I moved on to looking into the Quantum world. My slow progress has been hinted at in some blog posts: QM3. I have read a number of books in 2017 on this subject (see bibliography below), in an attempt to understand the quantum world. It has been fascinating. The Quantum world is truly bizarre, like something out of a Sci-Fi novel, with strange effects and exotic objects with imprecise properties. Eventually I have concluded that understanding isn’t possible – the mathematics can, though, be used and does appear to be an accurate description of the Quantum world, and can be used to make predictions. And this leads to the Standard Model of elementary particles – which is what A Map of the Invisible is about.
Given all the reading I’ve been doing about QM, I am very aware of the vast amount of experimentation and theoretical explorations that Jon has condensed down into a summary of the Standard Model. What Jon has also managed to do, though, is to communicate what we still don’t know, and where future studies might take us. The use of the map analogy, couched within a framework of the journey, very effectively conveys the dynamic nature of this area; both in its history, but also in its future – this is a very live area of research. It is also a very difficult area to grasp, and the map analogy is a good framework for constructing a mental image of the Standard Model.

What would be good, though, would be an accompanying large format (A0?) poster of the maps, annotated with what we know about each elementary particle.

+A Beautiful Question – Finding Nature’s Deep Design: Frank Wilczek

+Quantum Mechanics – The Theoretical Minimum: Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman

+In Search of Schroedinger’s Cat – John Gribbin

+Schroedinger’s Kittens – John Gribbin

+You’re Joking Mr Feynman – Richard Feynman

+Inside the Centre – The Life of J Robert Oppenheimer – Ray Monk

+The Strangest Man – The hidden life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius – Graham Farmelo

+The Quantum Story – A history in 40 moments – Jim Baggott

Partially read:

+Quantum Mechanics – A complete introduction: Alexandre Zagoskin

+Quantum Theory – David Bohm

+Fashion, Faith and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe – Roger Penrose


1 thought on “A Map of the Invisible – Journeys into Particle Physics by Jon Butterworth

  1. Pingback: Book review | Life and Physics

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