We are still in shakedown mode here at Discover Blogs, although hopefully things are mostly working well. One change is that from now on people will have to register to leave comments. Maybe that’s for the best? Let’s see how it goes, at any rate.
Last night I had the privilege of once again appearing on the Colbert Report to talk with our nation’s leading pundit about the frontiers of modern science. I can’t seem to embed the video (shakedown, remember?), but here’s the clip. I’m not sure you’d want to use it to help explain how the Higgs mechanism works, but I think we had fun. The joke about “massive” at the end makes sense only if you know that Colbert has a running gag, referenced earlier in the show, in which he has been trying to get people to say “massive” as a synonym for “cool.”
Many writerly friends of mine swear with a straight face that they never look at reviews of their books. I have tried but failed to comprehend the inner workings of these alien minds; personally, as much as I know it might pain me, I can’t help but read reviews. Sometimes I might even learn something! Or at least be gratified, in this nice review of The Particle at the End of the Universe by Adam Frank at NPR.
Or, on the other hand, simply be amazed and astonished. The most amusing “review” so far has come from one of the good readers at Amazon, working under the nom de plume “Chosenbygrace Notworks,” and coming with the to-the-point title “Arrogant atheist `science’.” Apparently Chosenbygrace is not handicapped by actually having read the book, but did hear me talk on Coast to Coast AM. Here’s the opening:
Sean Carroll is a typical atheist physicist who arrogantly disregards creationists to the point where he does not even acknowledge they exist unless prompted (like happened on Coast to Coast AM tonight). The liberal media and filled with money sapping money-obsessed morons like this, willing to indebt any generation of Americans into becoming slaves. It’s already happened, and Americans in general are all debt slaves because of atheism-theoretical-physics cultists like this, and the idiot atheists who worship delusional morons like this.
It goes on, but, you know, probably the gist has been conveyed. The physics/atheism connection is a classic, of course, but I hadn’t been aware that we in the cult were also responsible for plunging Americans into debt. 5 out of 425 people found the review helpful, so at least someone is being helped! (In fairness, the Amazon review by Ashutosh Jogalekar probably does a better job of conveying what’s in the book than any I’ve yet seen.)
Other reviews are puzzling, and I have to mention one in particular. Read More
This afternoon, 6pm Eastern/3pm Pacific, is the fun event I mentioned before: a “virtual book tour” discussion on a new-ish platform called Shindig. The idea is that I sit here with my webcam, talking to you and showing some pictures; you sit where you are, with your own webcam, as a potentially-participatory audience member. You can virtually “raise your hand” to ask a question, either by text or by audio in the post-talk Q&A. Different audience members can break off into groups to chat about things by themselves. It’s all free and open and quite experimental, so we’re trying to coax as many people into participating as possible. Certainly saves time (and fossil fuels) in comparison to jetting around the country.
The topic, of course, will be the new book, or really just the basics of the Higgs search and the Large Hadron Collider. I will give a brief overview, very casual, and anyone there should feel free to ask whatever they like.
Here’s an example of a Shindig event, featuring A.J. Jacobs.
Should be fun. Join us if you can!
Publication day! In case it’s slipped your mind, today is the day when The Particle at the End of the Universe officially goes on sale. Books get a bit of a boost if they climb up the Amazon rankings on the first day, so if you are so inclined, today would be the day to click that button. Also: great holiday present for the whole family!
A very nice review by Michael Brooks appeared in New Scientist. (It’s always good to read a review when you can tell the author actually read the book.) Another good one by John Butterworth appeared in Nature, but behind a paywall.
Brief reminder of fun upcoming events:
FAQ: Yes, you should have no trouble reading and understanding it, no matter what your physics background may be. Yes, there are electronic editions of various forms. Yes, there will also be an audio book, but it’s still being recorded. No, nobody has yet purchased the movie rights; call me. Yes, I know that the Higgs boson is not literally sitting there at the end of the universe. It’s a metaphor; for more explanation, read the book!
Writing this book has been quite an experience. Unlike From Eternity to Here, in this case I wasn’t writing about my own research interests. So for much of the time I was acting like a journalist, talking to the people who really built the Large Hadron Collider and do the experiments there. It’s no exaggeration that I went into the project with an enormous amount of respect for what they accomplished, and came out with enormously more than that. It’s a truly amazing achievement on the part of thousands of dedicated people who are largely anonymous to the outside world. (But for the rest of their lives they get to say “I helped discover the Higgs boson,” which is pretty cool.)
Of course, being who I am, I couldn’t help but take the opportunity to try to explain some physics that doesn’t often get explained. So once you hit the halfway point in the book or so, we start digging into what quantum field theory really is, why symmetry breaking is important, and the fascinating history of how the Higgs mechanism was developed. (I had to restrain myself from going even deeper, especially into issues of spin and chirality, but this is supposed to be a bodice-ripper, not a brain-flattener.) At the end of the book, as a reward, you get to contemplate the role of the internet and bloggers in the changing landscape of scientific communication, as well as all the fun technological breakthroughs that we will get as a result of the Higgs discovery. (I.e., none whatsoever.)
Hope you like reading it as much as I liked writing it.
Hard to believe I wrote another book. How did that happen? But it must be true, as The Particle at the End of the Universe is now available for pre-order on Amazon and elsewhere. Back to real work for me, for the foreseeable future. (Unless someone wants to give me a million dollars, which to date they have been reluctant to do.)
I’m actually putting finishing touches on the copyediting as we speak. Events have prodded the publisher to move up the release date quite a bit (as I expected), so now it’s coming out in November rather than in February. So we’ve been in a mad dash against the clock, although I’ve tried my best to be careful in the actual writing. And many people have been extremely generous with their time, reading over chapters and talking with me about the issues. Compared to From Eternity to Here, this book is obviously less about presenting a novel take on some deep issues in physics and more about helping people understand why the Higgs boson is important, and how the experiments actually look for the thing. But there are a couple of chapters in there where I get to try to explain gauge invariance, connections, and symmetry breaking. I can’t help myself; it’s in my nature.
Speaking of generosity, even with the short timescale I scored pretty big with the back-cover blurbs. Check these out:
“In this superb book, Sean Carroll provides a fascinating and lucid look at the most mysterious and important particle in nature, and the experiment that revealed it. Anyone with an interest in physics should read this, and join him in examining the new worlds of physics to which this discovery may lead.”
–Leonard Mlodinow, author of The Drunkard’s Walk
“Carroll tells the story of the particle that everyone has heard of but few of us actually understand. After you read his book — an enticing cocktail of personal anecdote, clever analogy, and a small dose of mind-bending theory — you will truly grasp why the Higgs boson has been sought after for so long by so many. Carroll is a believer in big science asking big questions and his beliefs are infectious and inspiring.”
–Morgan Freeman, Actor and Executive Producer of Through the Wormhole
“The science is authoritative, yet bold and lively. The narrative is richly documented, yet full of human drama. Carroll’s saga pulls you aboard a modern voyage of discovery.”
–Frank Wilczek, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics
If only the actual writing in the book could be that good! “Obtain blurbs from Oscar winner and Nobel laureate for same book” is now checked off my bucket list.
We were all transfixed by the Higgs seminars on July 4, but the work was nowhere near over for the experimentalists — they had to actually write up papers describing the results. And of course taking the opportunity to do a little more analysis along the way.
The ATLAS Collaboration
(Submitted on 31 Jul 2012)
A search for the Standard Model Higgs boson in proton-proton collisions with the ATLAS detector at the LHC is presented. The datasets used correspond to integrated luminosities of approximately 4.8 fb^-1 collected at sqrt(s) = 7 TeV in 2011 and 5.8 fb^-1 at sqrt(s) = 8 TeV in 2012. Individual searches in the channels H->ZZ^(*)->llll, H->gamma gamma and H->WW->e nu mu nu in the 8 TeV data are combined with previously published results of searches for H->ZZ^(*), WW^(*), bbbar and tau^+tau^- in the 7 TeV data and results from improved analyses of the H->ZZ^(*)->llll and H->gamma gamma channels in the 7 TeV data. Clear evidence for the production of a neutral boson with a measured mass of 126.0 +/- 0.4(stat) +/- 0.4(sys) GeV is presented. This observation, which has a significance of 5.9 standard deviations, corresponding to a background fluctuation probability of 1.7×10^-9, is compatible with the production and decay of the Standard Model Higgs boson.
And here’s CMS:
The CMS Collaboration
(Submitted on 31 Jul 2012)
Results are presented from searches for the standard model Higgs boson in proton-proton collisions at sqrt(s)=7 and 8 TeV in the CMS experiment at the LHC, using data samples corresponding to integrated luminosities of up to 5.1 inverse femtobarns at 7 TeV and 5.3 inverse femtobarns at 8 TeV. The search is performed in five decay modes: gamma gamma, ZZ, WW, tau tau, and b b-bar. An excess of events is observed above the expected background, a local significance of 5.0 standard deviations, at a mass near 125 GeV, signalling the production of a new particle. The expected significance for a standard model Higgs boson of that mass is 5.8 standard deviations. The excess is most significant in the two decay modes with the best mass resolution, gamma gamma and ZZ; a fit to these signals gives a mass of 125.3 +/- 0.4 (stat.) +/- 0.5 (syst.) GeV. The decay to two photons indicates that the new particle is a boson with spin different from one.
Greetings from Vegas, where I’m here for The Amaz!ng Meeting, at which I’ll be talking Saturday. But I’ll also be talking today using one of these fancy electronic information-processing gizmos that are all the rage among the young folk these days. That is, we’re having a video chat, sponsored by the Huffington Post, to talk about the Higgs boson excitement and also something about what it means for science communication across the expert/public divide.
Update: oops! It’s actually not streaming live. Sorry about that. Will be posted later.
We start at 2pm Eastern/11am Pacific. I think you will be able to find the chat by clicking here; if not I’ll try to update. Other participants will be HuffPo science blogger Cara Santa Maria (oops just found out Cara can’t make it), Henry Reich of the increasingly famous MinutePhysics videos, science comedian Brian Mallow, high school science teacher Lorren Hotaling, and the whole thing will be moderated by HuffPo’s Josh Zepps.
To tide you over, here are Henry’s latest videos about our favorite scalar boson. Part One:
And Part II:
As you may have seen from our live-blogging of the CERN seminars on Wednesday morning, after having told Sean and John I would be asleep, I woke up anyway and watched the announcement live at 3am my time. I don’t regret it for a moment – you don’t get to watch historic events like that every day! But the reason I’d originally intended to stay asleep was that I had a very long day ahead of me, since Wednesday evening I flew out to Melbourne to take part in the 36th International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP). This is the major high-energy physics conference every two years; and this year, given the Higgs announcement, it is particularly exciting.
I landed in Melbourne on Friday morning (local time), but couldn’t attend a lot of the conference that day because I had to deal with a lost bag (thanks United!) and then shop for a shirt, underwear, etc. Enough about that though. For the last year or so the University of Melbourne has been the primary institution in a new Australian Center of Excellence in Particle Physics (CoEPP) at the Terascale, and I am fortunate to be one of their international partner investigators and on the International Advisory Committee. Friday evening there was a small reception and dinner for members of the Center and the IAC. Geoff Taylor (head of CoEpp), my friend Ray Volkas, Rolf Heuer (Director General of CERN and Chair of the IAC), and others were all there, dressed nicely in their suits. And I was there in the jeans I’d worn continually (and slept in on the plane) for two and a half days (thanks United! OK, I’ll stop mentioning it now). In any case, this was a lovely start to what I”m hoping will be one of the more exciting conferences of my career.
Here’s a short video, courtesy of NOVA, that we made on our trip to Geneva. Hopefully the excitement of the moment comes through… (Note: might be hard/impossible to view the video outside the US, sorry.)