Thursday, February 15, 2007

Physics in a nutshell, in a nutshell

I've spent the last couple of evenings reading through one of several new graduate level textbooks on theoretical particle physics. Michael Dine's book Supersymmetry and String Theory, beyond the Standard Model is a concise, fact-filled book covering a huge range of topics. Within its 500 or so pages the Standard Model is summarised including a discussion of many non-perturbative effects in various gauge theories in diverse dimensions, a tour of the basic setups in non-supersymmetric model building, technicolour, supersymmetry, including SUSY breaking scenarios, general relativity, cosmology, astroparticle physics, plus string theory including discussions of many of the modern issues and many more topics besides.

However, because so much is packed in to this relatively short book, at times it feels more like an encyclopedia than a text book. It is a great resource if you know these things already and want to be reminded of the key points of a subject or, if you're not familiar with these subjects, to get a flavour of what's important and why. However, with this book alone you will not learn how to perform detailed calculations in many of these areas. The topics are just too deep for such short sections to get you up to research level. This is clearly not the idea though and there are many references pointing you to where you should go having got the basic ideas.

Some of the time this works very well but unfortunately on some occasions I think that the equations which are chosen for a given topic are confusing. That is to say that many steps are missed out and they may leave the reader who wants to learn these areas rather unsatisfied. This doesn't mean that a text book should give you a free ride but in this case the leaps are sometimes made without the necessary explanation. That said it covers so many of the key topics in modern beyond the standard model physics and I think this is the first text to do a good job of that.

The prerequisites I would suggest are a very thorough understanding of the standard model, including the basics of some non-perturbative physics and, perhaps surprisingly, supersymmetry. If you haven't come across supersymmetry before then the two pages in which the anticommutators of supercharges are introduced, the chiral, vector and supergravity (super)multiplets are given and superspace is discussed will probably leave you confused as to what's going on. This is easily remedied with one of the great reviews on the subject, but be warned that the encyclopedic breadth does leave it a little shallow at times.

So, as I say, if you have a reasonable idea of these topics already and want a good reference, or you want a text which will point you in the right direction for many areas of research then this is a great book. Despite the occasional large leaps in logic I'm enjoying reading this and the style in which it's written makes for a rather good overview of these diverse and fascinating topics.

See also Jacques Distler's review of the book.

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