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Deep Down Things: The Breathtaking Beauty of Particle Physics [Hardcover]

Bruce A. Schumm

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Book Description

Oct. 20 2004 080187971X 978-0801879715 1

A useful scientific theory, claimed Einstein, must be explicable to any intelligent person. In Deep Down Things, experimental particle physicist Bruce Schumm has taken this dictum to heart, providing in clear, straightforward prose an elucidation of the Standard Model of particle physics -- a theory that stands as one of the crowning achievements of twentieth-century science. In this one-of-a-kind book, the work of many of the past century's most notable physicists, including Einstein, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Dirac, Feynman, Gell-Mann, and Weinberg, is knit together in a thorough and accessible exposition of the revolutionary notions that underlie our current view of the fundamental nature of the physical world. Schumm, who has spent much of his life emmersed in the subatomic world, goes far beyond a mere presentation of the "building blocks" of matter, bringing to life the remarkable connection between the ivory tower world of the abstract mathematician and the day-to-day, life-enabling properties of the natural world. Schumm leaves us with an insight into the profound open questions of particle physics, setting the stage for understanding the progress the field is poised to make over the next decade or two.

Introducing readers to the world of particle physics, Deep Down Things opens new realms within which are many clues to unraveling the mysteries of the universe.


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A fascinating journey into the bizarre, subatomic world of particle physics. PhysOrg.com 2004 Quantum field theory, group theory, Lie algebras, internal symmetry spaces and gauge theory. [Schumm] does a remarkably good job of explaining all this, with a style that is mercifully plain. -- Peter de Groot New Scientist 2005 Explores the world of particle physics in terms laymen can understand. Santa Cruz Sentinel 2005 I expect that any physics undergraduate, bewildered by textbooks and lectures, would find this a delight. -- Stephen Battersby New Scientist 2005 One of several recently published books attempting to provide for interested nonphysicists a relatively nonmathematical account of what has come to be called the standard model of particle physics... Schumm's treatment is perhaps more detailed. Choice 2005 This is definitely a book for your Christmas list, and if it doesn't excite your mathematics colleagues too, they'll miss a treat. -- Rick Marshall School Science Review 2006 This book is beautifully written and is a didactic masterpiece. -- David Watts Science and Christian Belief 2006

About the Author

Bruce A. Schumm is a professor of physics at the University of California at Santa Cruz.


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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  57 reviews
245 of 250 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book is Released & Available for Purchase Oct. 27 2004
By Autodidact Andy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I had the opportunity to read this book as a longstanding draft before it went into publication (then titled "Patterns and Paradigms"). Shortly afterwards, I opened what turned out to be enjoyable correspondence with the author. He surprised me with the news that this book was recently released and ready for purchase through the publishers. I since then bought the published edition and this review represents an analysis of the released hardback. The fact that the author took more than four years to write and polish this fine book for the general public shows in its tight, cogent and succinct style and content.

Deep Down Things (the Breathtaking Beauty of Particle Physics) gets its title from a beautiful verse in Gerard Manley Hopkins fitting poem God's Grandeur "And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things"

In the Preface the author explains that the title is meant to convey that "Deep down within the atomic nucleus, deeply within the paradoxical richness of empty space, deep inside the synapses of the great scientific thinkers of the 20th century - this is the territory of particle physics." This book peals back the layers of the atomic and sub-atomic world like an onion ready for investigation. Just for fun, look for the rest of the poem on the Internet.

Schumm says in the Introduction that his book "...represents my attempts to elucidate the currently accepted theory of particle physics...for the interested public." He goes on to say that it's not "...a story about the history of particle physics or of the lives of its protagonists. Nor is it a book of anecdotes about the culture and society..."
Deep Down is categorically non-mathematical and in the spirit of the "popular" vein but with an unusual twist. This is not a superficial pop-science "gee-wiz" book. At the risk of losing some less than serious lay readers, Schumm has wisely sprinkled some important formulas throughout the book and he effectively shows why they are significant. You don't have to be able to see or do the "proofs" in the equations, just the important concepts behind them. Chapter 1 serves as the Introduction and Chapter 2 is a quick account of the four fundamental forces of Nature as by described by the Standard Model. Chapter 3 covers Planck's constant and the revolutionary discovery of quantization, Einstein's Relativity, Wave-Particle Duality (ala de Broglie's matter waves), Heisenburg's Uncertainty Principle, and finally Schrodinger's time-independent equation are all brought to light. The book has many diagrams to graphically illustrate various concepts and also a nice Notes section to elaborate on technical details. Chapter 4 "The marriage of Relativity & Quantum Theory" (one of my favorite chapters) is all about Relativistic QFT, Feynman diagrams of fundamental interactions, bosons, antimatter, spin, the virtually active vacuum (Casimir's effect) and ends with a nice treatment of QED. Chapter 5 is about the fundamental building blocks known as the Standard Model: Quarks, Leptons, Bosons, and Fermions & the "particle zoo".

The remaining half of the book (chapters 6 though 10) is my favorite. Here Schumm takes me where I've always wanted to go - right into the heart & depth of the symmetries & abstractions that have only been hinted at in other books. Here, Schumm offers a serious & stimulating challenge for this physics lay-enthusiast. I'm happily compelled to re-read major sections of the book that are indeed deep & abstract - trying to get my mind wrapped around the concepts of SU(2) & SU(3) Lie Algebras, hypercharge, and internal symmetry spaces in gauge theories. I've seen this stuff before in many other popular books but they're usually dumbed down too far with vague or loose analogies (I can't help but feel like some authors are being forced to be less than forthcoming). Some of us don't flee in a blind/frightened panic over alien & abstract mathematical concepts of internal spaces so long as we're not hit with the double barrel of imposing mathematical rigor & proof. You see, I strongly suspect that the majority of popular physics readers are simply interested in sensationalized subjects like Superstring & Theory of Everything stuff - this is what sells in the minds of most publishers after all. So, I appreciate the (too) few authors & publishers that go out on a limb for those of us who're starving for real meat (less the Graduate level rigor however). Incidentally take a peek at Vincint Icke's book: The Force of Symmetry. You'll see a unique approach to fascinating and abstract world of fundamental physics there as well.

One can't help but suspect that there's something to the exquisitely beautiful patterns in the abstract mathematical spaces and Lie groups the author is trying to teach us here. Correspondence between rotation groups in two real dimensions R(2) and those in the complex plane U(1) are presented accessibly. He brings us through Lie Algebras: R(3), U(1), SU(2), & SU(3) and Gauge Theories; spin projections, complex rotations (imaginary numbers) and symmetry transformation operations in Isospin space.

I love this stuff and only wish I had cultivated a discipline of mathematical studies as a young man so that I could fully appreciate the beauty and utility of these methods of understanding the crown achievement of human intellect. In any event, I believe Deep Down Things is written with someone like me in mind (the author agrees) and I hope you find your interest in it as well.
132 of 134 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best explanation of the Standard Model I have seen. Dec 9 2004
By John Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My background: I'm not a physicist. I do like math, but don't necessarily like a narrative flow to be interrupted by alot of math. I have read historical treatments of physics, especially the period since Maxwell. I have read several popular books relating to quantum mechanics, etc.

My problem: I have been frustrated by the absence of a book which can pull everything together and make the details of the Standard Model understandable and enjoyable to read about.

This book's triumph: it has replaced that absence with an excellent presence! This book is extremely lucid, appears to be rigorous (I am not qualified to judge), and goes into far more detail than any other popular treatment I have read or heard about. I really do feel as though a fog is lifting.

I am now on about page 115 (there are about 350 pages of narrative; plus a brief appendix regarding scientific notation; and notes, sometimes humorous but usually serious and helpful, keyed to certain passages of the text; the index appears to be completely adequate).

The chapter titles are:

1. Introduction

2. The True Movers and Shakers: The Forces of Nature

3. The Great Reawakening: The Modern Physics Revolution

4. The Marriage of Relativity & Quantum Theory: Relativistic

Quantum Field Theory

5. Patterns in Nature: The Fundamental Building Blocks

6. Mathematical Patterns: Lie Groups

7. The World Within: Internal Symmetries

8. Physics By Pure Thought: Gauge Theory

9. The Current Paradigm: Hidden Symmetry, The Standard Model &

the Higgs Boson

10. Into the Unknown: What Lies Ahead

This book is a non-mathematical treatment of the subject and it is not too hard for the layman. It does offer a satisfying level of detail and explains matters (no pun intended) in a clear and enjoyable fashion. I will repeat myself and say that it is the best book on its topic that I have ever seen.
48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best popular particle/quantum physics books I have read May 1 2006
By H. Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Bottom line: Buy it.

If you are tired of books that throw out words like "symmetry" and "gauge theory" without ever explaining (at least conceptually) what these terms mean and how these concepts relate to a deep understanding of particle physics then this is the book to buy.

The author explains the mathematical concepts quite simply and in such a way that if you can read ANY popular book on physics then you can understand how Lie Algebras and Gauge Theories help derive the eightfold way, the charges on some bosons, the probability of the Higgs field/particle, and therefore lead to the Standard Model of particle physics.

Imagine a book which covers these topics (Lie Groups, Lie Algebras and Gauge Theories) without ever seeming mathematically challenging or complex. Here it is.

My only disappointed? It doesn't cover more, because this is the best exposition -- real teaching at a world class level -- of the subjects it does cover. If Schumm ever writes another book I will buy it, sight unseen.

If you have read, or wanted to read "The Road to Reality" by Penrose (which I highly recommend if you have the determination to read it), this will make several sections of that book much easier to understand -- were all of Penrose's explanations as high quality as "Deep Down Things" there would likely never be a better book on these subjects.

For anyone considering this book, the answer is simple: buy it and enjoy reading it.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating March 31 2006
By GrizzlyMike - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
With the large number of 'over-the-top' accounts of modern physics available on the bookshelves it is quite refreshing to see an author give an account of the concepts behind High Energy Physics without diverging from known facts and speculating about esoteric ideas such as parallel worlds and the like.

Schumm does an outstanding job of making the complex ideas surrounding the standard model of particle physics accessible to the average lay reader. It is hard to recall another work that presented such abstract mathematical concepts as Lie Groups and Gauge Symmetry in a way that is comprehensible to a reader who possesses no prior knowledge of the subjects. The author presents the reader with just enough of the informal concepts necessary to understand how the patterns observed in nature correlate to and can be derived from the patterns observed in the mathematical structures.

The first few chapters are devoted to the basic principles of modern physics that are necessary to understand the eventual framework on which the laws governing the world of elementary particles are built. Schumm presents the subjects in an informal and non-technical manner but does so in a way that hints at the underlying mathematical relationships. The author then gives an account of the complex array of objects in the 'particle zoo' that are known to exist directly through experiment or are theorized to exist based on inductive inference. Due to the sheer number of inhabitants of this zoo an author could quickly lose the interest of the reader with a tedious and matter-of-fact presentation of the subject. Schumm manages to remain informative while keeping the reader engaged and interested.

A large portion of the book is devoted to the presentation of the underlying concepts behind groups, symmetry, and gauge theory. The author sums it all up into one cohesive package by putting all the pieces together and presents the theory known as the Standard Model of particle physics.

Due to the experimental limitations inherent in this field of study scientists have had to rely more heavily on theory than they have in the past when forming a paradigm. In the absence of physical evidence it would become tempting for some to infer the nature of the reality underlying the phenomenon based solely on mathematical inferences and conjectures(String Theory). When this happens science loses it's identity and simply becomes another branch of mathematics. Science is an empirical undertaking and theory and mathematics will always be a means to an end. In the scientific enterprise theoretical reasoning is always subservient to observation. The ultimate litmus test of any theory is always experimentation. Schumm makes this perfectly clear.

There are hopes that the opening of the LHC in 2006 will provide more insights and perhaps verify the existence of the so far elusive Higgs Boson which is pivotal in the Standard Model. However, as with all other periods in this relatively young field it would be a surprise if what comes out of the LHC does not raise as many questions as it answers. Every time an advancement is made in accelerator technology something always seems to come out of the woodwork that throws everyone for a loop.

The author concludes by taking note of the fact that experimental efforts to dig further down towards the Planck scale will eventually reach an insurmountable technological hurdle and will ultimately come to an end. What makes the subject so fascinating, however is the journey itself and not so much the destination. If all the questions were firmly answered it would be a rather boring undertaking and would fail to hold our attention for long. Its hard to get excited about a mystery novel when you already know 'who done it'.

If you want to read a sensationalist account about what happens when Schrodinger's cat falls into a wormhole then this book will be a disappointment. Everyone else will most likely find this account of the Standard Model highly engrossing. A work like this was long overdue and it is comforting to know there are scientist-authors who feel they can stick to the known facts without having to appeal to tales of parallel worlds and other speculative oddities to keep the lay public interested. The facts themselves are odd enough to be entertaining.

Highly recommended.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best layman's description of the Standard Model ever May 11 2005
By Doug310 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a magnificent book. Indeed, I would say this is, bar none, the absolute best layman's book on the Standard Model of modern physics. If you have enjoyed other books such as Leon Lederman's "The God Particle" or, more recently, Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe," then you will probably enjoy this book.

This very readable, highly understandable tome discusses the mathematical underpinnings of physicists' current functional and tested model of how the universe is constructed and works, save for gravity. It does so in the context of symmetry groups (in particular Lie groups) and how these basic mathematical concepts add up, almost miraculously, to a straightforward model of matter, energy, and how they interact.

I have, over the years, read quite a few technical books on quantum mechanics and mathematical physics. Until reading this book, however, I did not appreciate the simplicity and beauty of the group-theoretic underpinnings. Indeed, it could be argued that I did not understand group theory at all, but reading Penrose's recent "The Road to Reality" actually helped quite a bit in that regard as well.

I cannot say enough good about this book - read it, you won't be disappointed. IndiAndy has a good, more detailed review, so I won't repeat much of what he says.

Another book I recommend is Watson's "The Quantum Quark" which is primarily concerned with QCD (one part of the Standard Model). This other book delves more deeply into that one subject, and is a nice compliment, although of course there is some overlap.

Thank you to my brother-in-law Mark, now serving in Iraq, for giving me this book this past Christmas.
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