The Particle Hunters
Chris Quigg

The Particle Hunters. By Yuval Ne'eman and Yoram Kirsh. 272 pp. Cambridge University Press, 1986. $49.50.

Current understanding of the physics of elementary particles is founded upon the Identification of quarks and leptons as the basic constituents of all matter and the development of mathematically similar gauge theories of all the fundamental interactions. So concisely can the resulting "Standard Model" be stated that it is easy to slight the body of experimental information which led to the insights that guide our thinking. Particularly susceptible to omission are the great mass of experiments, not individually decisive, from which there emerge partial patterns, then order born of theoretical insight, and finally systematics to be reproduced and explained by any candidate for a fundamental theory. The Particle Hunters traces the evolution of elementary particle physics from the end of the 19th century to the present day. Its strong point is the attention to the interplay between observation and analysis, which is the essence of Ne'eman's decisive contribution to the subject: breaking the code of the partially revealed patterns of strongly interacting particles and injecting the unitary symmetry group SU(3) into the consciousness of particle physicists.

From antiquity until the first experimental evidence for the reality of quarks in the late 1960s, the book gives a good description of how progress was made, with a sensible balance between theory and experiment, and at least a hint that confusion is often the forerunner of enlightenment. Most interesting is the treatment of symmetry and the personal account of the path toward SU(3). The later chapters, dealing with the development of the Standard Model and the new questions that arise from it, are cursory and erratic in comparison.

The book requires a committed reader; an undergraduate student already attracted by particle physics would gain valuable perspective from a close reading. The presentation is marred by an unwholesome preoccupation with prizes. In too many cases, the importance of a contribution is justified by citing an award conferred on the principals, rather than by explaining why the work changed the way we think. Forgoing this appeal to authority would have resulted in a stronger and more engaging survey.

Chris Quigg, Theoretical Physics, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory

Published in American Scientist 76, 247 (1988).