Key Nuclear Reaction Experiments: Discoveries and Consequences,
Nuclear physics is one of the most difficult topics in science. On the one hand, nucleons are composite objects, constituted of quarks and gluons, and on the other, they combine into highly complex many-body systems. Nuclear-physics experiments are expensive; they require complicated particle detectors in addition to nuclear accelerators that generate particles fast enough to penetrate an atom’s electron cloud and react with a target nucleus. Additionally, it is challenging to understand enough nuclear-physics theory to carry out present-day research in nuclear medicine, nuclear reactions, stellar evolution, and other hot topics of nuclear science.
Hans Paetz gen. Schieck’s new book, Key Nuclear Reaction Experiments: Discoveries and Consequences, aims to provide a basic overview of the theory and practice of nuclear physics. A few decades ago, Theo Mayer-Kuckuk wrote Kernphysik: Eine Einführung (B. G. Teubner, 1984), a concise and relatively simple book introducing the reader to the basic concepts of nuclear physics. A similar book by Walter Meyerhof, Elements of Nuclear Physics (McGraw-Hill, 1967), exists in the US but is out of print. Schieck’s book is comparable to those in style, but it is focused on nuclear reaction experiments. It might therefore be useful for a one-semester course that gives a general introduction to nuclear physics. It can also be used by experienced researchers who have little knowledge of complementary aspects of their field.
Key Nuclear Reaction Experiments occasionally assumes more knowledge of nuclear physics than a beginning reader would possess. As early as chapter 2, for example, the reader has to know such basic concepts of quantum mechanics as Fermi’s golden rule. However, the author tries to keep such prerequisites to a minimum and derives most results from scratch or intuitively. The text and derivations are concise and the figures are well drawn; they effectively guide the reader through the main concepts under discussion.
In his relatively short volume, Schieck manages to cover a remarkable range of nuclear reactions that test the geometry of nuclei. In chapter 4, which introduces those reactions, he explains differences in neutron and proton matter distributions, the experimental setups used to ascertain those differences, and the connection with other nuclear systems such as neutron stars. In a follow-up in chapter 5, he presents the newly blazed path to the discovery and understanding of nuclear halo systems and vividly describes loosely bound three-body systems, also known as Borromean systems. Perhaps a few more words could have been said about Efimov states, which manifest some of the most beautiful aspects of feebly bound three-body systems.
In its middle chapters, the book takes a sudden turn into the particle zoo. Schieck focuses on the parts of the zoo that are of main interest to nuclear physics, including the neutron, quarks, and gluons. He also discusses some of the history of nuclear physics, such as the discovery of the neutron and the development of nuclear accelerators. From there he covers a range of nuclear experiments and phenomena, including direct nuclear reactions, such as stripping reactions; the nucleon–nucleon interaction and its symmetries; Mott scattering; molecular resonances; and excited, compound nuclei.
Two chapters near the end of the book reflect Schieck’s research passion: They introduce the reader to the first experiments to use polarized beams with particular reaction systems. The final chapter discusses the discovery and our present understanding of giant resonances in nuclei. I would have liked to see some sentences about pigmy resonances, collective vibrations found in neutron-rich nuclei at energies too low for giant resonances.
In the end, Schieck delivers a delightful book appropriate for the reader seeking a first acquaintance with the subject. He is a highly reputable nuclear physicist and well experienced with public lectures and review articles. No wonder that he was able to describe a broad field of physics with so few words and so few equations.
Carlos Bertulani is a physics professor at Texas A&M University–Commerce. A nuclear theorist and author of five textbooks, he is the 2015–16 chair of the American Physical Society’s Committee on Education.