Book review: Neutrino

This week I’m reading ‘Neutrino’ by Frank Close, published by Oxford University Press in 2010.  It’s a real treat; a short, succinct account of the history of neutrino physics, from Pauli’s ‘difficult hypothesis’ of a particle that might never be detectable to Fermi’s theory of beta decay, from the successful detection of neutrinos by Cowan and Reines to the famous conflict of theory and experiment in the case of solar neutrinos.

The story is brought up to date with a superb overview of modern advances such as the detection of supernova neutrinos, the discovery of neutrino oscillation, the resolution of the puzzle of the missing solar neutrinos and the great promise of neutrino astronomy.

Neutrino (Frank Close , OUP)

I must say I think books like this do an enormous service to physics. Like John Gribbin and Paul Davies, Close is an expert in his field who presents his material as a simple, chronological story that is extremely readable. Neutrino physics is also a worthy topic as it is one of the few areas of major progress in particle physics in recent years. It’s often forgotten that the discovery of neutrino oscillation caused the first re-writing of the Standard Model for decades.

I particularly enjoyed the historical sections on Pauli and Fermi as the relative contributions of the two are often confused. I also enjoyed the description of the astonishing work of Bruno Pontecorvo and the early experiments of Ray Davis. As for John Bachall, I came away from the book feeling that he was very badly treated by the physics community; even when his calculations of solar neutrino flux were finally vindicated (having endured suspicion for many years) he was denied a Nobel prize, hard to understand why.

The book was published before this year’s ‘faster-than-light’ neutrino controversy. I’m glad for this as I always felt that story was a bit of a distraction. That said, I wish I had read Close’s book before the many talks I gave on neutrinos this year!


There is a very important international conference on neutrinos happening this week in Kyoto, Japan, see here for details of Neutrino 2012.

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Filed under Particle physics, Science and society

3 responses to “Book review: Neutrino

  1. Justin

    Hi Cormac, Interesting review. I guess this is yet another book for my reading list so! I find it interesting reading these books even from a presentation aspect alone – how do these authors communicate complex information to the often not overly scientific reader.

    P.S. Did you see the article from Dick Ahlstrom in today’s Irish Times on global warming? The title is “Latest statistics show no evidence that global warming is taking place”. Yet the article is really just saying that 30 years of data isn’t enough the prove anything with respect to the climate – a somewhat misleading title it has to be said. I wonder if this title was picked by someone other than the author as seems to happen judging by your recent posts on here.

  2. Justin

    Ah, it seems the headline has been edited online. It now reads “Latest statistics help Met Éireann put weather in context”.

  3. cormac

    Yes, I saw the article and I too found it totally misleading. That’s interesting that they’ve changed the headline online – I’ve sent in a letter, let’s see if they print it