In the first fractions of a second after the Big Bang lingers a question at the heart of our very existence: why does the universe contain matter but almost no antimatter? The laws of physics tell us that equal amounts of matter and antimatter were produced in the early universe--but then, something odd happened. Matter won out over antimatter; had it not, the universe today would be dark and barren.
But how and when did this occur? Helen Quinn and Yossi Nir guide readers into the very heart of this mystery--and along the way offer an exhilarating grand tour of cutting-edge physics. They explain both the history of antimatter and recent advances in particle physics and cosmology. And they discuss the enormous, high-precision experiments that particle physicists are undertaking to test the laws of physics at their most fundamental levels--and how their results reveal tantalizing new possibilities for solving this puzzle at the heart of the cosmos.
The Mystery of the Missing Antimatter is at once a history of ideas and an exploration of modern science and the frontiers of human knowledge. This exciting, accessible book reveals how the interplay of theory and experimentation advances our understanding and redefines the questions we ask about our universe.
Using remarkably clear prose and analogies drawn from everyday experience (hunting for rabbits, waves crashing into a sea wall), physicists Quinn and Nir (of the Stanford Linear Accelerator and the Weizman Institute in Israel, respectively) examine both historical and cutting-edge research into particle physics, the study of the most basic components of the universe-including both matter and antimatter, the universal imbalance of which provides one of the discipline's central puzzles (and this book's title). A thorough account, this examination takes readers through the basics (physical constants, the expanding universe, "What is Matter?") before breaking out concepts like neutrinos and quarks, rules of energy and symmetry, and dark matter. Quinn, an active participant in the particle physics community since the 1960s, contributes charming personal accounts that present pioneering researchers and their work in endearingly human terms, capturing well the club's excitement over particularly important discoveries. Though it's far from light reading, this book is will prove highly stimulating and illuminating for anyone who ever wondered, "Just what is dark matter anyway?" without realizing that even physicists don't know yet. A time line of particle physics discoveries is usefully appended, but a bibliography is missed.
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Princeton University Press
December 16, 2007
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