From mini black holes to the origin of mass, the science behind the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Europe's particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, is explored in two recent books. In Collider (Wiley, 2009), physicist Paul Halpern describes how the extreme energies of the LHC will unveil the basic building blocks of the Universe. He explains how the particle accelerator works, how and why it was built and what exciting results it may generate. And he reassures readers that media reports of the machine's ability to create dangerous miniature black holes are unfounded.

In A Zeptospace Odyssey (Oxford University Press, 2009), theoretical physicist Gian Francesco Giudice also relates the history and physics of the LHC, placing it into a broad context. As well as highlighting the theories that may be challenged by the groundbreaking experiment, including supersymmetry and string theory, he anticipates the intellectual revolution that it may trigger.

A more widely used type of accelerator is the subject of Velvet Revolution at the Synchrotron (MIT Press, 2009). Sociologist Park Doing examines how biological experiments, such as protein crystallography, have gradually taken over from physical-science studies at synchrotron facilities. Although the machine is a product of the particle-physics work of the Second World War, as an intense X-ray source it is frequently used to analyse the structures of proteins and complex molecules. Doing argues that this research switch came about through a series of alternating periods of assertion and resistance, rather than being driven from the top or bottom.