“The Inifinity Puzzle” by Frank Close

The Inifinity Puzzle [ 2011 ]                                       Frank Close


When I first noticed this book and read the flap about what this book is about, I thought it’s going to tell me a lot of things about renormalization. Now I’ve finished reading it, I feel (subjectively of course) that it’s mostly like a historical book criticizing who have or have not got Nobel Prizes. But I have to say that the descriptions have been fascinating and sometimes you’d very much like to know what’s going to happen next, just like reading a detective or mystery novel.

I’ve learnt quite a bit more about the history of particle physics leading to the present Standard Model. I didn’t know that there was a sort of competition between Feynman and Schwinger and Schwinger had a upper hand early on as he was the first to be able to calculate electron’s anomalous magnetic moment and Lamb Shift. Feynman’s significance came later when everybody used his Feynman diagrams which have made calculation much easier and faster than Schwinger’s method. I have also learnt/realized how intertwined and realized all these great physicists have been. Dirac’s lecture inspired Salam, Salam took trouble to learn from Dyson and solved the problem of overlapping infinities. It’s interesting to realize that Dyson had spent 5 weeks talking with Schwinger befire finally understand Schwinger’s techniques in depth (p. 57). Zweig’s supervisor was Feynman etc.

The author has expressed the unfairness for certain physicists not winning the Nobel Prizes. Among them, the author has put forward the strongest words for the following three: Freeman Dyson (who has shown that Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga had discovered the same fundamental theory in different ways and completed the proof of renormalization for QED), John Ward (who was a QED titan p. 93/94 as seen in Ward’s Identities and worked together with Salam in many wonderful things such as the paper with Salam in their SU2xU1 electroweak model) and James Bjorken (who pointed to the way how quarks, W/Z bosons etc. could be discovered, pushed to have SLAC and showed how e-e+ annihilation probability should fall with energy leading to charm discovery and exposed that protons are built of quarks led to a whole generation of experiments confirming the electroweak theory resulting in ‘t Hooft and Veltman’s Nobel Prizes).

Not the least, we have learnt of a lot of fierce competition among the greatest physicists. One hilarious example can be found on p.206 (last paragraph), Veltman told T.D. Lee about his “Schoonschip” program, Lee “barely reacted”. But immediately after Veltman left, Lee “wanted one of the local physicists to develop an analogous program”.

There are many “ifs” suggested by the author. p. 161 (lines 21-25): “on the occasion of that fateful lunch …Had Guralnik and Ward been more open with one another, they might have shared a Nobel Prize”. Similarly for Higgs and Glashow on p. 170 (lines 11-12):”If Peter Higgs and Shelly Glashow had communicated properly, Weinberg and Salam would never have got into it.”

Probably due to his British identity, the readers may be able to sense the slight bias (at the 1% level ?) of the author’s emotion towards Europe and towards UK. UK’s contirbution to CERN is probably significant but his only mentioning UK’s finance has made people think whether CERN would continue to exist depends on UK ! And of course, he praised British Directors General such as J. Adams and C. Llewellyn Smith and accused Rubbia washing his hand and handing over the difficult problem (LHC) to Llewellyn Smith (p.328). Not too subtle. Just a subjective feeling of mine …

Intentionally or not, the author has told us many unsuccessful bits of Salam. First of all, he didn’t recognize the significance of Ron Shaw’s (his student) work which turned out to be Yang-Mills theory. He ignored Glashow’s paper (esp. the one in 1961 leading to his Nobel Prize) just because Glashow made a mistake in 1959 (for false claim of renormalizability). Salam didn’t understand ‘t Hooft’s talk and thought incorporating gravity would solve the Infinity Puzzle. Even phrased in the most inconspicious way, the author has seriously criticized Salam’s winning the Nobel Prize based on Weinberg-Salam electroweak model. (p. 298) Salam’s Göteborg talk[ Proc. of the 8th Nobel Symposium, 367 (1968) ] (which commented that spontanoues symmetry breaking could provide the link to complete Ward’s and his SU2 x U1 model as the electroweak theory) was about half a year after Weinberg published his seminal PRL paper [vol. 19, 1264 (1967)]. Publishing in such an obscure place doesn’t seem to indicate that he himself valued its importance, not to mention that his 1968 paper didn’t have the W/Z mass prediction as in Weinberg’s paper. Though Salam claimed that he’d given lectures at Imperial College around Oct. 1967 outlining his ideas on spontaneous symmetry breaking, nobody had any written record. The author subtly hinted a small possibility that the independent work from Salam might not be really as what he’d claimed; and probably more obviously, Salam didn’t realize the importance of this last step (including spontaneous symmetry breaking into the electroweak model) until in 1970’s after ‘t Hooft proved the renormalizability and when he realized that this is Nobel-worthy ! Apparently, he’d “campaigned” very hard for his Nobel Prize.

The author has quoted a lot from “The Second Creation” by Crease and Mann which appears numerously in the endnotes.

Sometimes, one feels that the author has repeated himself. Eg. p. 189 (line 11-13) : “Well that’s nice; …..pion is the one” reappears almost identically (except for punctuation, the position of “now” and the explanation in []) on p. 212 (lines 18-20) [ with the same footnote (no. 3 in Chapter 10 and no. 18 in Chapter 11) of course: “Weinberg, interview by the author, May 6, 2010”. ] It’s likely that the author didn’t write from Chap. 1 to 17 in plain sequence, as sometimes (while reading) I felt that he might not have remembered well what had been written before in another chapter.

Typos or errors : p. 135 (16th line), “cooled to 269oC” should be “cooled to -269oC”. p. 209, footnote 12 comes after footnotes 13 and 14, probably not intentional ?! p.381 (6th line from the bottom), “Figure 7.2 on page 182” should be “Figure 7.2 on page 382”. p.384, at the end of note 20, “note 57 in Chapter 10” should be “note 57 in Chapter 9” (there is no note 57 for Chapter 10). (2012-7-7)


About kinyip

An experimental particle physicist ...
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