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Mass: The quest to understand matter from Greek atoms to quantum fields

Jim Baggott

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Oxford University Press
09 July 2020
Mathematics & Sciences; History of science; Popular science; Physics
Everything around us is made of 'stuff', from planets, to books, to our own bodies. Whatever it is, we call it matter or material substance. It is solid; it has mass. But what is matter, exactly? We are taught in school that matter is not continuous, but discrete. As a few of the philosophers of ancient Greece once speculated, nearly two and a half thousand years ago, matter comes in 'lumps', and science has relentlessly peeled away successive layers of matter to reveal its ultimate constituents. Surely, we can't keep doing this indefinitely. We imagine that we should eventually run up against some kind of ultimately fundamental, indivisible type of stuff, the building blocks from which everything in the Universe is made. The English physicist Paul Dirac called this 'the dream of philosophers'. But science has discovered that the foundations of our Universe are not as solid or as certain and dependable as we might have once imagined. They are instead built from ghosts and phantoms, of a peculiar quantum kind. And, at some point on this exciting journey of scientific discovery, we lost our grip on the reassuringly familiar concept of mass. How did this happen? How did the answers to our questions become so complicated and so difficult to comprehend? In Mass Jim Baggott explains how we come to find ourselves here, confronted by a very different understanding of the nature of matter, the origin of mass, and its implications for our understanding of the material world. Ranging from the Greek philosophers Leucippus and Democritus, and their theories of atoms and void, to the development of quantum field theory and the discovery of a Higgs boson-like particle, he explores our changing understanding of the nature of matter, and the fundamental related concept of mass.
By:   Jim Baggott
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 196mm,  Width: 129mm,  Spine: 28mm
Weight:   318g
ISBN:   9780198759720
ISBN 10:   019875972X
Pages:   368
Publication Date:   09 July 2020
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Jim Baggott is a freelance science writer. He was a lecturer in chemistry at the University of Reading but left to work with Shell International Petroleum Company and then as an independent business consultant and trainer. His many books include Quantum Space: Loop Quantum Gravity and the Search for the Structure of Space, Time, and the Universe (OUP, 2018), Origins: The Scientific Story of Creation (OUP, 2015), Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the 'God Particle' (OUP, 2012), A Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments (OUP, 2011) and A Beginner's Guide to Reality (Penguin, 2005).

Reviews for Mass: The quest to understand matter from Greek atoms to quantum fields

An imaginative book that seeks the answer to the question, what is matter? ... Baggott provides a wild but expert and comprehensive ride. * Kirkus Review * Baggott smartly renders particle physics, typically a dense and opaque topic for the nonexpert, clear and captivating. Not only will readers grasp the building blocks of the standard model, they will forever look at mass differently. * Publishers Weekley * Jim Baggott provides an excellent introduction on this topic for non-specialists and general science enthusiasts ... The book is a gem in introducing the abstract ideas of modern science to general audience even without formal training in STEM disciplines ... In summary, this book by Jim Baggott is a joy to read and will be especially inspiring to students (senior high school and junior undergraduate) interested in pursuing a career in fundamental physics. * Yee Sin Ang, Contemporary Physics * Jim Baggott is one of the UK's best popular science writers and never disappoints. * Brian Clegg, Popular Science * Encourages the reader to really think about the nature of matter and how something as apparently straightforward as mass is not what it seems. That delight in revealing the unexpected typifies, for me, the joy of physics. * Brian Clegg, Popular Science * How did our understanding of mass evolve from the geometric atoms of ancient Greece to the quantum ghostliness of today? Jim Baggott ingeniously contextualizes that eventful science history. * Barbara Kiser, Nature * The book is very clearly structured and has a glossary, so 'dipping' is facilitated. The author condenses and combines sources as listed in his bibliography. * Michael Jewess, Royal Society of Chemistry Historical Group newsletter *


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