x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Required reading: The Higgs boson

Scientists at CERN say that they have found the Higgs boson. What? As ever, a selection of the best reading can help you understand what this is about.

Scientists at CERN say that they have found the Higgs boson. The Geneva-based research team say that the discovery - which came via the £2.6 billion (Dh14.79bn) Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator - amounts to "a milestone in our understanding of nature". This may very well be true, but it would be easier to tell if it weren't all so hard to understand. As ever, a selection of the best reading can help.

For an introduction, go to the science journalist Ian Sample's Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle (Virgin Books, Dh51). You'll learn how the British physicist Peter Higgs proposed the existence of an undiscovered subatomic particle in 1964. According to Higgs, the existence of this particle was a necessary condition of other elementary particles having mass; without it, the universe would have no mass at all.

The idea sparked a search that lasted five decades. Read Collider: The Search for the World's Smallest Particles (John Wiley & Sons, Dh62), by Paul Halpern, for an insight into the obsessive world of the particle scientists who led that search. In 2008, they switched on the LHC, an underground circular tunnel, 27 kilometers in circumference, amid fears that planned, high-energy proton beam collisions may create a black hole that would destroy the planet. So far, everything seems good.

The LHC was designed to replicate the furious conditions that prevailed in the microseconds after the Big Bang. If your appetite for the big questions - where did the universe come from? What was there before it? - has been whetted, turn to the popular science book that still beats all comers. Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (Bantum, Dh51) is an exhilarating tour through 20th-century cosmology, and a model of science writing for the general public.

Those in a hurry, though, might prefer something simpler. George's Secret Key to the Universe (Corgi Children, Dh39), is an introduction to space written for children by Professor Hawking and his daughter Lucy.