Matin Durrani reviews Particle Physics Brick By Brick by Ben Still
I have lost count of the number of wheezes to get people hooked on particle physics. There have been straightforward scientific accounts, personal tales of discovery, books filled with cartoons, essays and even historical vignettes. Now in Particle Physics Brick By Brick, science communicator Ben Still, who is also an honorary research fellow at Queen Mary University of London, has decided to use LEGO bricks to coax readers into learning about the mysteries of the subatomic world. The book is divided into about 80 different topics, covering everything from the various fundamental particles and forces to nucleosynthesis, cosmic radiation, dark matter and more. Each topic is tackled via a richly illustrated double-page spread, in which LEGO bricks represent different particles – an up quark, for example, is a red two-by-two brick, a heavier charm quark is a green three-by-two brick, while a massive top quark is a blue four-by-two brick (the mass/brick-size relationship is only approximate of course). Using LEGO makes for a pretty way to illustrate what are quite technical topics, such as Feynman diagrams, symmetries, pentaquarks, antimatter and radioactivity. Still’s effort is a fine introduction to particle physics, but his book will only take you so far, LEGO bricks or not. Just as well then that, according to the title page, the LEGO Group “does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this book”.