Pop-up physics

A Voyage to the Heart of Matter: The ATLAS Experiment at CERN

Papadakis: 2009. 8 pp. £20 9781906506063 | ISBN: 978-1-9065-0606-3
Detector origami: the pop-up model of ATLAS. Credit: PAPADAKIS PUBLISHER

Finally up and running after a 14-month repair job, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Europe's particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, is the most complex experiment in the world and took thousands of physicists well over a decade to assemble. So it is perhaps to inspire empathy that an LHC pop-up book asks its readers to spend a few minutes fumbling with pieces of paper that (eventually) fold into a model of the giant ATLAS detector, one of four detectors at the collider.

This feature and others do not necessarily mean that A Voyage to the Heart of Matter is aimed at young children; indeed, its author, Emma Saunders, admits that she would not let her three-year-old son flip through it unsupervised. But it is perfectly suited for any adult with even a passing interest in the LHC and a desire to try their hand at detector assembly.

The book manages to pack an incredible amount of information about the collider into just four spreads. The first guides readers through the layout of the collider and its design; the second and third describe the ATLAS detector in detail; and the final spread, the book's most beautiful, shows galaxies in flight around a swirling maelstrom of primordial particles similar to those being hunted by the LHC physicists. In addition to a main pop-up, each page contains four flaps that open to reveal further facts about the collider and its goals.

The book's greatest charm is its obsession with detail. There is no reason one would have to include an 'inner detector' in the ATLAS mock-up; yet physicists would surely object if it was not there. Similarly, the fountain-like recreation of the Big Bang, in addition to being beautiful, is highly accurate. At its base — corresponding to The Beginning — lie unconfined quarks, while the upper layers correspond to the cosmic microwave background, the beginnings of large-scale structure, and the eventual formation of galaxies.

Most important, the pop-up format actually improves the book. Rather than being gimmicky, each pop-out genuinely illuminates the workings of the detector and the interactions of the particles it hopes to find. The book would be the perfect holiday gift for any armchair physicist who wants a little taste of life at the LHC.

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Brumfiel, G. Pop-up physics. Nature 462, 851 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/462851a

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