Anomaly! Collider Physics and the Quest for New Phenomena at Fermilab
World Scientific Publishing Europe Ltd (November 17, 2016)
Tommaso Dorigo is a familiar name in the blogosphere. Over at “A Quantum’s Diary’s Survivor”, he reliably comments on everything going on in particle physics. Located in Venice, Tommaso is a member of the CMS collaboration at CERN and was part of the CDF collaboration at Tevatron – a US particle collider that ceased operation in 2011.
Anomaly! Is Tommaso’s first book and it chronicles his time in the CDF collaboration from the late 1980s until 2000. This covers the measurement of the mass of the Z-boson, the discovery of the top-quark and the – eventually unsuccessful – search for supersymmetric particles. In his book, Tommaso weaves together the scientific background about particle physics with brief stories of the people involved and their – often conflict-laden – discussions.
The first chapters of the book contain a brief summary of the standard model and quantum field theory and can be skipped by those familiar with these topics. The book is mostly self-contained in that Tommaso provides all the knowledge necessary to understand what’s going on (with a few omissions that I believe don’t matter much). But the pace is swift. I sincerely doubt a reader without background in particle physics will be able to get through the book without re-reading some passages many times.
It is worth emphasizing that Tommaso is an experimentalist. I think I hadn’t previously realized how much the popular science literature in particle physics has, so-far, been dominated by theorists. This makes Anomaly! a unique resource. Here, the reader can learn how particle physics is really done! From the various detectors and their designs, to parton distribution functions, to triggers and Monte Carlo simulations, Tommaso doesn’t shy away from going into all the details. At the same time, his anecdotes showcase how a large collaboration like CDF – with more than 500 members – work.
That having been said, the book is also somewhat odd in that it simply ends without summary, or conclusion, or outlook. Given that the events Tommaso writes about date back 30 years, I’d have been interested to hear whether something has changed since. Is the software development now better managed? Is there still so much competition between collaborations? Is the relation to the media still as fraught? I got the impression an editor pulled the manuscript out under Tommaso’s still typing fingers because no end was in sight 😉
Besides this, I have little to complain about. Tommaso’s writing style is clear and clean, and also in terms of structure – mostly chronological – nothing seems amiss. My major criticism is that the book doesn’t have any references, meaning the reader is stuck there without any guide for how to proceed in case he or she wants to find out more.
So should you, or should you not buy the book? If you’re considering to become a particle physicist, I strongly recommend you read this book to find out if you fit the bill. And if you’re a science writer who regularly reports on particle physics, I also recommend you read this book to get an idea of what’s really going on. All the rest of you I have to warn that while the book is packed with information, it’s for the lovers. It’s about how the author tracked down a factor of 1.25^2 to explain why his data analysis came up with 588 rather than 497 Z \to b\bar b decays. And you’re expected to understand why that’s exciting.
On a personal note, the book brought back a lot of memories. All the talk of Herwig and Pythia, of Bjorken-x, rapidity and pseudorapidity, missing transverse energy, the CTEQ tables, hadronization, lost log-files, missed back-ups, and various fudge-factors reminded me of my PhD thesis – and of all the reasons I decided that particle physics isn’t for me.
[Disclaimer: Free review copy.]