An enthusiastic, mostly comprehensible account of a popular theory many scientists believe will unite two of the few remaining separate elements in the universe: matter and energy.
Though more than 30 years of research has turned up no evidence for supersymmetry, Hooper (Dark Cosmos: In Search of Our Universe’s Missing Mass and Energy, 2006, etc.), an astrophysicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, does not allow that reality to dampen his enthusiasm. The author begins with Galileo and proceeds through Newton, Maxwell and Einstein, finishing with the great 20th-century quantum theorists from Planck to Feynman who laid out the Standard Model, a dazzlingly successful picture of the particles and forces that make up the universe. Although a magnificent achievement, the Standard Model does not explain how gravity fits in with other forces or why the universe’s elements (electrons, protons, quarks) have their particular properties (charge, mass, spin). Since the ’70s, physicists have tried to close these gaps, and supersymmetry is a leading candidate: a complex theory that requires a host of new, weird and so far undetected subatomic particles. Hooper pins his hopes on the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator now beginning operation in Switzerland, which may or may not succeed in producing these particles. Like similar books in this arena, such as Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe (1999), Hooper does a fine job explaining historical physics and newer concepts (quantum theory, relativity), but he has more difficulty explaining supersymmetry for a general audience. Many of his witty, educational anecdotes and parallels are so simplified that readers may not make the connection. Some concepts, such as gauge theory or R-parity, will remain challenging to readers without a background in physics.
Veteran readers who do not expect the universe to reveal its secrets easily will put in the work required to finish this energetic exploration of modern physics.