The little things of big effect

The Charm of Strange Quarks
November 24, 2000

Today's frontiers of physics are largely to be found in the very large and the very small. Here, authors Michael Barnett, Henry Muhry and Helen Quinn give an up-to-date and wide-ranging account of the very small: the quarks, which are basic constituents of all matter, and the force-carrying particles (gluons, photons and the more exotic W and Z particles), which bind quarks together and give rise to particle interactions.

There are interesting sections on accelerators and experimental methods. An excursion into cosmology indicates how elementary particle physics affects our understanding of the very early universe, and an excellent overview of recent theoretical developments suggests possible paths to a theory that encompasses gravity.

The aims of the book are admirable; the authors, however, seem to have interacted insufficiently among themselves. I found the early chapters disorganised. Topics are repeated - by page 40, two formal definitions of the Standard Model of elementary particles have been given, neither of them satisfactory. The authors have a distracting preoccupation with Nobel prizes, which are mentioned at every opportunity. A stronger use of Feynman diagrams might have been helpful.

Generally, the writing is clear, with good accompanying illustrations. Only modest mathematics and a little quantum mechanics is demanded, but a certain literacy in physics does tend to be taken for granted.

Unfortunately, the book cannot be recommended for mainstream physics students, who require a deeper and more formal approach, nor for others in view of the poor organisation of the basic material. It will be of considerable value, however, as a source book for those giving courses on the subject, since a large quantity of useful information (albeit of limited depth) is there, and the generous appendices have an extensive bibliography and historical summary.

Peter J. Bussey is reader in physics, University of Glasgow.

The Charm of Strange Quarks: Mysteries and Revolutions of Particle Physics. First Edition

Author - R. Michael Barnett, Henry Muhry and Helen R. Quinn
ISBN - 0 387 98897 1
Publisher - Springer
Price - £.00
Pages - 302

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