Leonard Cole, Author

Chasing The Ghost

World Scientific, ISBN 978-123-105-6

Non-Fiction –atoms, subatomic particles, evolution, physics, neutrino physics, bombs, WWII, Nagasaki, Hiroshima

269 pages

November 2021 Review


Leonard Cole, author of Chasing The Ghost, has written numerous books and articles, mostly on public policy or science. (2021, back cover) He is an adjunct professor at Rutgers Medical School in New Jersey and also in their Political Science department.

The book opens in the 1960’s in a gold mine in South Africa with Fred Reines representing the United States and Gus Hruschka from South Africa. Both men are brilliant physics professors. They worked together in the depths of this gold mine on subatomic particle research. Seven years prior they found that “On average, a speeding neutrino could pass through a light-year of lead —- 6 trillion miles thick — and not be slowed. The miniscule particle is commonly described as elusive.” (2021, p.3) Rather impressive if you ask me.

“Neutrinos come in different forms, sometimes referred to as flavors. Antineutrinos also exist, which are particles of antimatter that correspond to those in ordinary matter. The differences between matter and antimatter particles are based partly on their opposite electrical charges. An electron has a negative charge and its mirrored partner, the positron (an antielectron) has a positive charge. If two such particles collide, they annihilate each other and become photons — particles of light. Photons carry energy despite having no mass and no charge.” (2021, p.15)

Drs. Reines and Cowan had been working on an experiment that would either identify or dismiss the neutrino. In 1956 they detected it existed. This led to Reines getting the Nobel Prize in physics. Well, half the prize to be exact. Martin Perl from Stanford University got the other half of that prize for his discovery of the tau. (2021, p.20) Tau is another elementary particle in the same family as the `neutrino and electron.

Fred and his team of exceptional scientists worked on an atomic test that was code named Trinity (1948) in the desert outside of Alamogordo and Albuguerque, New Mexico where they could effectively monitor it from earth-covered bunkers twenty miles away. Fred worked for days prior to this test to install an instrument that could monitor the impact of the bomb from a variety of distances from ground zero outward. Fred recalls this as being “many times that of the noon-day sun —a beautiful purple…. It rose to about 40,000 feet and mushroomed out forming a huge grey cloud.” (2021, p.59) It was their hope that this new knowledge would not be used as a destructive force, but instead as a source of energy. This became part of the Atoms for Peace and vis a vis the Atomic Energy Act (1954) that was spearheaded by President Eisenhower. (p.86)

Reines and Cowan parted ways in 1957. Cowan moved on to conduct research at Catholic University. (2021, p.107) Reines went to work for the Case Institute School of Applied Science. At Case Reines sought to identify “natural source” neutrinos. This prospect proved to be more of a challenge than he had expected. Two things needed to be mitigated before this research could effectively progress. He needed to block the unwanted radiation and background activity and devise a way to detect the neutrinos from further away than the closest reactor. Eventually, Reines found and got permission to use part of the Morton Salt mine in Cleveland, Ohio which was three miles deep. The explosions from Reines research loosened the salt faster and it was used to assist in snow removal on the roadways. This facility allowed them to positively identify the neutrino and the muon in its natural state. However, there were presumably trillions more passing through their detector. Could they find another location that would help them capture more neutrinos and get better data?

This book was extremely cerebral and incredibly fascinating for me to read, even as a non-physicist person. I was captivated by their projects and the results of their experiments.  I loved it and if you enjoy learning you will too.



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