Monday, March 27, 2017

Book review: “Anomaly!” by Tommaso Dorigo

Anomaly! Collider Physics and the Quest for New Phenomena at Fermilab
Tommaso Dorigo
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.]


  1. "Particle physics isn't for me." lol :-D

  2. "eventually unsuccessful search for supersymmetric particles" Supersymmetry, dark matter, baryogenesis, non-classical gravitations, Chern-Simons repair of Einstein-Hilbert action. Theory can be empirically wrong.

    Trace chiral vacuum selective to hadrons sources physics’ woes. Test for a vacuum left foot with tightly fitting opposite shoes. Eötvös experiment contrast single crystal test masses of enantiomorphic space groups P3(1)21 versus P3(2)21 alpha-quartz. Microwave contrast cryogenic molecular beam rotational spectra of a self-calibrating 3:1 mixture of enantiomeric 2-cyano-D_3-trishomocubane (prolate symmetric top rotor).

    "dominated by theorists" 76+ arXiv papers demanded OPERA superluminal muon neutrinos. Science is empirical. LOOK. “Maybe the horse will sing."

  3. It's really expensive for a popular science book.

  4. Thanks for the review Bee! I think you are right - I was a bit too optimistic in believing everybody can read my book. In truth, I do think they can, but the point is that they won't :)

    One small typo: the W mass is in fact the Z mass (first CDF measurement, 1989). They did measure also the W mass, but there was no question that CDF would beat UA2 at that game, so that was not nearly as tight a race as the one for the Z, which saw CDF covertly competing with SLAC, who was openly competing with LEP.


  5. Sabine,

    Have you read Lawrence Krauss' "The Greatest Stroy Ever Told -- So Far" (just published)? It chronicles particle physics leading up to (and including) the Higgs discovery, from largely a theorist's point of view. If so, it would be interesting to know how you would compare the two books. I just finished reading it and enjoyed it very much.

  6. Henry,

    No, because I'm annoyed I didn't get a review copy ;) More seriously, I am still working on Zeeya Merali's new book and Brian Cox' last years book and won't have time for Krauss any time soon.

  7. Tommaso,

    Sorry about the mixup, will fix that. Seems by the time I finished the book I had already forgotten the beginning...

  8. " I was a bit too optimistic in believing everybody can read my book. In truth, I do think they can, but the point is that they won't :)"

    Well, I just bought it ($38 on Amazon Kindle), and will try.

  9. Nice to know! I hope you'll enjoy it. Meanwhile, please don't hesitate to ask if you have questions, at dorigo(at)pd(dot)infn(dot)it

  10. Sabine, Still waiting for your review of Janna Levin's book.
    I wish I was as lucky as you and got free copies of books :-)

  11. Bee - its funny you post this now as I just finished the book two nights ago. I had much earlier complained about the price, but that is beyond Mr. T's control. However, I do think the publisher should have done a bit better of a job proofing/editing at that price point!

    Like you, I thought the ending came with a bit of a thud, perhaps there is a follow-up for Run 2? Also found that it was sometimes difficult remembering what all the people named did and their responsibilities, though that may be partly due to reading it over a three month span (been a turbulent winter). Some type of end-note listing would have been helpful.

    It was interesting the European influence at CDF, especially from Italy! Now, I'm sure Tomasso had a little home field bias but I did not realize with all that was going on at UA1/2 there were still so many involved with CDF (and probably D0 too). I was also fascinated by what sounded like an extremely political situation, far more so than I thought was the case.

    Bee I your description of the subject of the book was accurate, but could have been more specific. The focus, to me, was on the problems and challenges that are created by outlying data points, ie. anomalies. I suspect T did this, not just because it might be more interesting than just recounting the search for top, but because a) those sideshows really accentuated the human side of experiments and large collaborations and b) work on those problems sometimes led to valuable insights/corrections of other more widely accepted data/analysis, ie they were not a waste of time, even if some thought they were.

    To anybody that is interested in particle physics, the book provides a good background of things that most of you are really completely unaware. As Bee notes, virtually every popular/entry level book on high energy physics is all about theory, whether current or historical with perhaps a few pages describing the physical details of things like bubble and spark chambers. None really bring you into the experimental realm and certainly none at the personal level as does Anomaly!

    Sorry the long post, finally one that I have personal insight :)

  12. I have read the particle-physics background/terminology section, which contained a puzzling fact: there are three positive color-charges (R,G,B) and three negative ones (anti-R, ...) but only eight color/anti-color combinations in gluons, whereas by my math there should be either 6 (if R(-R), G(-G) and B(-B) are not allowed) or 9 (if they are allowed).

    However, despite the author's kind offer above, I hesitated to bother him about it, and used Wikipedia. It turns out the combinations are more complicated than just color/anti-color, but there are 9 independent combinations and one of them is prohibited.

    As in most undertakings, there are a lot of terminology and model rules to learn, but if you worked with them enough they would become automatic, I think. I would not want to get used to working in a haze of cigarette smoke, though. That part scared me.

  13. JimV,

    Yes, there are only 8 gluons, not 9. It's one of the most common confusions regarding the strong nuclear interaction, and the explanation you have given above (that one combination is forbidden) is the one most often given.

    The math-based explanation is that the Lie-algebra of SU(n) has n^2-1 generators, so SU(3) has 8 generators and that's that. (Indeed the generators aren't uniquely fixed, so saying that one combination is 'forbidden' isn't quite correct either.)


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