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Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos

By: Steven Pollock,The Great Courses
Narrated by: Steven Pollock
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Summary

Would you like to know how the universe works? Scientists have been asking that question for a long time and have found that many of the answers can be found in the study of particle physics, the field that focuses on those impossibly tiny particles with unbelievably strange names - the hadrons and leptons, baryons and mesons, muons and gluons - so mystifying to the rest of us.

And now, in a fascinating and accessible series of 24 lectures, you can take the mystery out of the remarkable field that in only 100 years has unlocked the secrets of the basic forces of nature.

Professor Pollock will make you familiar with the fundamental particles that make up all matter, from the tiniest microbe to the sun and stars. And you'll also learn the "rules of the game" - the forces that drive those particles and the ways in which they interact - that underlie the workings of the universe.

The lectures have been designed to be enriching for everyone, regardless of scientific background or mathematical ability. Virtually all you'll need as you enter this fascinating world are your curiosity, common sense, and, as Professor Pollock notes, "an open mind for the occasional quantum weirdness." As you move through the lectures, you'll also gain - a knowledge of how those particles fit into perhaps the greatest scientific theory of all time: the Standard Model of particle physics; a grasp of key terms like "gauge symmetry," "quantum chromodynamics," and "unified quantum field Theory;" and - an appreciation of how particle physics fits in with other branches of physics - including cosmology and quantum mechanics - to create our overall understanding of nature.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2003 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2003 The Great Courses

What listeners say about Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos

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Perfectly pitched

Very well presented, enthusiastic introduction to particle physics, very much looking forward to extending my understanding since the Higgs was (with high probability) discovered in 2013. Prof Pollock's delivery is hugely engaging, and he never assumes any knowledge beyond a general appreciation of the scientific method. Would have liked some links to reference material, but Wikipedia sufficed to give a visual representation of the Standard Model as Prof Pollock built up the picture. Absolutely recommended to anyone with an enquiring mind, and with some 30 min slots in their day which can be dedicated to listening!

6 people found this helpful

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Great book

Enjoyed the story thoroughly. However, it seems as if this book was recorded quite sometime ago, even before LHC became operational and the Higgs boson was discovered. It would be nice to have a new edition of this book incorporating the recent discoveries.

3 people found this helpful

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Particle physics for the uninitiated

This is a very good Great Courses audiobook about Particle Physics. The narration and description of things is accessible for those with little to no understanding of Particle Physics, and the course never panders to it's audience.

My only critique would be that science has clearly advanced since this course was released. The course makes assumptions about possible "future" scientific discoveries that (at the time of writing this review) have already been discovered e.g. the Higgs Boson. Unfortunately this does date this course slightly. With that aside, however, this is an excellent audiobook.

2 people found this helpful

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Superb overview of the development of particle physics

One of the best courses I’ve listened to from The Great Courses, Professor Pollock is a highly engaging speaker who conveys his knowledge in a way that’s readily understandable by non-physicists. The course gives a detailed chronology of the field, and ends prior to the completion of the Large Hadron Collider.

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Just a constant information dump with no recaps or explanation.

Constantly given more information with very little linking it to previous subjects or explaining its relevance, no recaps or summaries for any of the lectures. I found it very hard to keep track of all the new particles and concepts being discussed past the first few hours.

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Impeccable

An outstanding and candid way to present such complex ideas. Thank you so very much!

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Great listen!

Explains all the concepts well and in enough depth, the only thing is this is written before the Higg's Boson was discovered, so that part and maybe supersymmetry, needs updating, and I can't recall anything on WIMPS, but well worth a listen.

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Works well as an audio book

These lectures walk through what we know today and the history of how we got to where we are with quantum physics. I really enjoyed the book, well worth the time. Unlike other books taken from lectures, this one didnt loose anything without the video.

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Great Course, easy listening

Particle Physics is my favourite subject in Physics. I’ve taught myself Physics over the last 5-6 yrs and can honestly say I’ve listened to this Audiobook at least 6 times. Pollock explains this subject in a nice uncomplicated way, in his own relaxed style.

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Exceptional

A brilliant book explaining complicated concepts in a digestible and fun way. Steven Pollock is outstanding.

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  • Greg
  • 07-01-15

Fantastic but Dated

Would you listen to Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos again? Why?

This is a wonderful lesson to the time it was recorded. At this point, eight or more years have passed and you need to listen to more recent works to get the updates since Professor Pollock narrated this. It is still a fantastic way to get from the beginning of particle physics to the time he gave this lecture. I found it extremely accessible and will likely listen through it again. Professor Pollock has inspired me to recent works such as "The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter" by Katherine Freese. I can't comment on that yet.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos?

Sorry, this isn't me. I liked the whole program.

What about Professor Steven Pollock’s performance did you like?

I could sense his passion. This is what Professor Pollock does. I'd rather learn from a practitioner than a bystander. He uses "we" often. You can feel it, or at least I could. I would love to have been in his lectures and chatted afterwards.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

No, it gave me information I was interested in. I am not a Particle Physics student. I am a lifelong learner with a bent towards science. I really enjoyed his presentation of a fairly complex subject. If you are reading this, you likely are looking for what I was, so listen to the lecture.

Any additional comments?

Understand that he will talk about what's to come several years past. Plan for it and it is fine. Don't be frustrated that he talks about something coming in 2007. Just get an updated text to follow this. It is still a great history to the time it was recorded and well worth the investment in time (certainly more valuable than whatever you pay for the lectures).

57 people found this helpful

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  • Gary
  • 19-05-15

Demystifies particles

The choice is yours. You can let the popular media and the Mystics continue to tell you that particles physics is woo and mysticism or you can listen to this highly accessible lecture and realize what particle physics is all about and learn why neutrinos are so important, what c-p violation means, and what makes up the universe at the most fundamental level.

The lecturer doesn't tell you anything without first telling you the context and how we know what we know. I still don't understand what a photon really is or what exactly is meant by spin, but that's not the fault of the lecture. It's more that their real meaning is tied up with esoteric mathematics and the lecture stays away from the math.

42 people found this helpful

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  • A reader of fact and fiction
  • 10-04-14

Excellent introduction for a non-physicists

I would recommend this to anybody who is interested in fundamental parts of our universe. Very clear presentation, easy to follow, and seems at least to me to cover the subject very well.

I have no interest to dwell into the mathematics of particle physics, and the aim of the series of lectures is indeed to deliver as comprehensive overview of particle physics to a listener just like me.

Very clear presentation, and I would like to listen to more material of this subject produced with such clarity and attention to delivery. Excellent!

26 people found this helpful

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  • evilpacifist
  • 11-02-16

Great synopsis of particle physics!

As someone who graduated from an engineering physics program 12 years ago (and never did engineering or physics since), this has been a great philosophical non-mathematical overview (plus review and a recast of things I didn't properly learn) of a field I hope to get (back) into - even if as a hobbyist and promoter of all things science. Condensing hard maths such as what I remember (even at the undergraduate level) E&M, Quantum, Classical Mechanics, etc being into a detailed synopsis that is easy (-ish) to grasp takes a stroke of genius. I wish I had you as a professor in undergrad, for all my physics courses (mine were great researchers, but awful docents... probably why I delved into a different field in grad school and in my career after). Ya never know, I still dream about going back to grad school to focus on particle physics once my daughter goes off to college (I deviated away as it was tough staying focused as a single dad, as I was then). Anywhoo...... I'd love to see a part II to this book (i.e., advancements since the book came out, e.g., in findings from CERN). Thank you!

11 people found this helpful

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  • Adam
  • 27-05-14

My favorite Great Courses Lecture

Would you consider the audio edition of Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos to be better than the print version?

There is no print version.

Who was your favorite character and why?

It's a lecture. This question is weird. Steven Pollock?

Have you listened to any of Professor Steven Pollock’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I've listened to his lecture on Classical Physics. This one is much better. I think this is his area of expertise, though. So that makes sense.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Intense interest and desire for more and more detail. This should have a second and third version.

Any additional comments?

I love Pollock's presentation style. I love that he carefully organized these lectures. And, I love that he helps me to feel like I have a thorough understanding of the work being done at large colliders (well, mostly just the LHC now).

I've listened to this twice. I intend to listen a third time. It's absolutely fascinating. I loved learning about Quantum Chromodynamics and Quantum Electrodynamics.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Michael
  • 21-02-18

Now I know particle names

This is hard to rate, because I'm not sure how much of the difficulty of this topic is due to its complexity, and how much is due to my density. I feel like I learned a lot of physics nomenclature, and now I can impress my friends with terms like lepton and W boson and renormalisation... But I still don't really get what any of it is, fundamentally. I don't think electrons are tiny dots, but the lecturer described them that way. He also gave at least a whole lecture saying how good the standard model is, and that he can't imagine it being falsified, and believe me, it's just good, and the problems aren't a big deal, even though it can't it explain a few things, like, oh, say, gravity. I really liked Pollock's style though. He cares about the content and making sure that his audience understands him. This series is also dated (2003), so it doesn't include the results of the LHC tests and the Higgs field/boson.

7 people found this helpful

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  • gamerboy64
  • 07-08-18

Excellent subject, great info, but outdated...

First of all, this is a great explanation of the standard model of particle physics, and even discusses time, relativity, and the electroweak force a bit. It's a great overview of how the particles and forces within the model were theorized and discovered, but it doesn't go in-depth enough about how they work in my opinion.
Also, the data is decently outdated, and that's made obvious by statements like "when they build the LHC at CERN they hope to find evidence of the Higgs boson" and "We're hoping to have experimental evidence confirming this by 2007". Overall this was definitely worth a listen since the model really hasn't changed much in the last decade, but I highly recommend you continue your education in this subject after this fun overview.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Matt717
  • 15-05-15

Mostly Old Stuff

From what I could pick up, this is from 2007. For example, the instructor talks about the search for the Higgs boson and what he believes will be found. This is a light brushing of particle physics. If you've already done some study of this, it will be a repeat of what you already know. You'll also recognize some mistakes because his knowledge is somewhat old. If you've never read anything on particle physics and are curious, this is an ok introduction even though some of what you'll hear is either wrong or not up to date.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Adam Kline
  • 11-04-14

fantastic science course!

I think a high score for story would be an insult really. it's a marvelously informative, and as of 9/30/15, is still mostly accurate.

great read. highly recommend.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Tom
  • 29-03-14

A book without pages is easier to read.

If you could sum up Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos in three words, what would they be?

Interesting, captivating, and informative. Thank you.

What did you like best about this story?

I liked the fact it was audible and easy to turn on my laptop and plug in my ear-buds. I just listened and became informed about a subject of which I am interested.

What about Professor Steven Pollock’s performance did you like?

Steven Pollock seems to be very knowledgeable about the subject, "not to be sarcastic", but it was assuring to hear him talk about this subject. It did not seem like I was listening to a scripted reading.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I listened in 5 sittings.

Any additional comments?

Thank you. I am a scientific and mechanically inclined human being. This is the kind of information I like and use in life.

5 people found this helpful