The melody of nature

Ivo van Vulpen, a particle physicist who was involved in the discovery of the Higgs boson, takes readers on a journey of discovery to the Lilliputian world that underlies everything. Science has managed to penetrate deeper than ever into a mysterious world invisible to the naked eye. Now its secrets and their practical applications are revealed in a refreshingly down-to-earth book.

Ivo van Vulpen
Original title
De melodie van de natuur

‘We all know that children can make the most fantastic constructions out of Lego blocks, from simple towers or and small castles to big rocket ships and entire dream worlds. Yet they are all built from just a handful of unique, small building blocks. In nature, it’s exactly the same thing. Each part of the miraculous variety of extremely complex elements we see in the world around us, from stars to human beings, and from water to viruses, is basically built from just a handful of blocks.’

2012; A hundred years after Einstein’s theory of relativity, the Higgs particle, a new building block, was discovered at the CERN laboratories. Why was it so important? It fundamentally changed the way we look at the universe and helped us understand its fabric. This book follows the quest of the many scientists who, over the centuries, have tirelessly searched for the ultimate building blocks of space and the universe. No matter how complex natural phenomena may seem, they can generally be reduced to a small number of deceptively simple underlying principles. Simple doesn’t always mean reasonable — some natural laws seem completely absurd, Van Vulpen explains. Scientists strive to recognize these patterns and discover nature’s melody.

Van Vulpen makes concepts like quantum mechanics, the theory of relativity and particle accelerators vivid and easy to grasp. He also shows how these ideas form the basis of our society. For example, GPS relies on relativity theory and computer chips on quantum mechanics. PET scans, which localize tumours, rely on anti-matter, and we radiate those tumours with particle accelerators. Along the way, Nature’s Melody also provides an overview of the field of elementary particles: what do we know now, and what do we yet have to figure out?

According to the author, science is not only a success story; it is also a story about unanswered questions, frustrations, incomprehension, and entering unknown territory. Drawing on common experiences and using analogies like the off-side rule in football, spotting animals on safari or the work of paleontologists imagining what dinosaurs looked like, he brings abstract concepts to life.

‘Why the discovery of the Higgs particle was the salvation of contemporary physics forms the core of this book, which is easy where possible and difficult where necessary. Van Vulpen is a masterful interpreter, always aware that his story must remain concrete so as not to lose the lay reader along the way.’

De Volkskrant
Ivo van Vulpen
Ivo van Vulpen works as a particle physicist at the University of Amsterdam and the National Institute for Subatomic Physics (Nikhef). In addition to his research on the particle accelerator at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, he also gives talks on fundamental physics for a broader audience.
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