I spent the months after 4th July 2012 - or discovery day, as history will have it - interviewing many of those most caught up in the hunt for the Higgs boson. I wanted to know how they finally uncovered the particle, how the engineers pushed the Large Hadron Collider as hard as they dared, and how the scientists worked flat out, and against the clock, to pull those gold-plated signatures of the Higgs boson from the scrappy debris of countless subatomic collisions. I wanted to know how they felt as the particle showed its face. They were first to see something new in Nature.
The display stand at the Virgin bookstore at Vancouver airport was promoting a dozen or so books when I wandered in, but none caught my eye more than a paperback on how our brains respond to puzzles. I am not one for doing puzzles. I don't buy puzzle books and I don't buy books about doing puzzle books. But this one leapt out at me regardless. It was the review quote that did it.
Last week I posted a black and white photograph of three young men and a beautiful Sunbeam Alpine convertible taken in 1961 on the campus of Harvard University.
I wondered if anyone might recognise the men: two are major characters in Massive and were there right at the start of the story that culminates in the hunt for what became known as the Higgs boson.
This week I heard the wonderful news that Massive has been shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton science book prize 2011.
It is no exaggeration to say the announcement made my year and to see it alongside some titles that truly bowled me over is a real thrill.
The Royal Society has posted some information on the shortlist and included some thoughts from the judges on each book. Here's what they said about Massive:
The Large Hadron Collider has left little room for the Higgs to hide after a spectacular tour de force that kicked off the summer conference season.
Among particle physicists there is a palpable feeling that, one way or another, we will soon know whether the famously elusive particle exists or not. The answer might well set the course of physics for decades to come.
There are ways to open a talk and ways not to open a talk and in the summer it wasn’t so clear which I’d picked when I stood up to give a lecture on Massive at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It went something like this. No. It went exactly like this. “I must be the first author to speak at an international book festival who winces at the title of his own book.”