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Truman Schwartz As all readers of this review certainly know, hydrogen was the first element formed in the big bang. It remains by far the most abundant element in the universe. Moreover, because of its simplicity, the hydrogen atom has been a test case for many of the theories and techniques of modern physical science. In 23 short chapters, John Rigden summarizes some of the properties of the element and various efforts made to understand and explain both hydrogen in particular and matter in general.

These chapters clearly demonstrate that hydrogen is an effective vehicle for presenting a good deal of modern physics. Not surprisingly, the choice of topics reflects the professional interests of the author, a former physics professor who is currently Director of Special Projects at the American Institute of Physics. For example, there is no discussion of the chemical properties of hydrogen and its important role in the Chemical Revolution of the late 18th century.

Similarly, the molecular structure of dihydrogen gets only a cursory treatment. And important applied topics such as hydrogen bombs, hy-drogen fuel cells, and the hydrogen economy are omitted. Unfortunately, when quasi-chemical topics are introduced, they sometimes come with errors. For example, the treatment of atomic weights on page 15 is inaccurate and misleading, and the discussion of radioactive decay is too oversimplified to be of much value. The presentation of physical constants in the Bohr energy expression p 38 gives numerical values but is guilty of the cardinal sin of not reporting units.

And in Figure 8. The book is part history of science and part primer on fundamental physical concepts. Moreover, it includes interesting vignettes about the scientists involved in these various discoveries, especially I.

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The Essential Element

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Like New: A book that looks new but has been read. In this biography of hydrogen, John Rigden shows how this singular atom, the most abundant in the universe, has helped unify our understanding of the material world from the smallest scale, the elementary particles, to the largest, the universe itself. Prologue 1. In the Beginning: Hydrogen and the Big Bang 2. Rabi, Ramsey and I.

Facts About Hydrogen | Live Science

Purcell and Felix Bloch, Rabi, John E. Nafe, and Edward B. Nelson, Hydrogen Maps the Galaxy Edward M. Purcell and Harold Ewen, Ramsey and Daniel Kleppner, Schramm, Antihydrogen: The First Antiatom Cornell and Carl E. Rigden's easy narrative style provides one of the most accessible descriptions of the importance of laboratory experimentation in developing our current understanding of fundamental physics that I know of.

The Essential Element: Surrounded by Hydrogen

Also, he demonstrates how theorists have at times led the way, sometimes with jumps of intuition, sometimes with reliance on fundamental notions like symmetry and sometimes with sheer stubborn persistence. Finally, readers will particularly benefit from seeing extremely important practical technologies that the original experimenters may never have dreamed of.

For a picture of how physics really progresses--with gritty details filled in, along with ingenious experiments and glimpses of physicists who push the forefronts of knowledge--Rigden's brief ode to hydrogen is a refreshing alternative to some of the speculative musings dominating the physics sections of bookstores. This book is part history of science and part primer on fundamental physical concepts.

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Moreover it includes interesting vignettes about the scientists involved in these various discoveries, especially I. Rabi, the subject of an earlier biography by the same author The book is well written with clear explanations and good references. It should be accessible to an educated lay audience and of particular interest to chemists.

A book to be treasured by laypersons and experts alike. Its subject, hydrogen, beneath a mask of simplicity, is clearly an element on the move. Such is the importance of this primordial element, that its biography mirrors that of the universe. As science--at least the modern physics part of it--is such an international enterprise, and is not carried out in a social vacuum, the book subtly provides a brief history of the world If you are an admirer of progress in science, this book is for you.

Rigden's book is, on one level, a history of this most basic element, from its discovery in the 18th century to today's cutting-edge experiments But Rigden is also telling us the story of modern physics