Hydrogen: The Essential Element

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Harvard University Press, 2003 - Science - 280 pages
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Seduced by simplicity, physicists find themselves endlessly fascinated by hydrogen, the simplest of atoms. Hydrogen has shocked, it has surprised, it has embarrassed, it has humbled--and again and again it has guided physicists to the edge of new vistas where the promise of basic understanding and momentous insights beckoned. The allure of hydrogen, crucial to life and critical to scientific discovery, is at the center of this book, which tells a story that begins with the big bang and continues to unfold today.

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. It is a tale of startling discoveries and dazzling practical benefits spanning more than one hundred years--from the first attempt to identify the basic building block of atoms in the mid-nineteenth century to the discovery of the Bose-Einstein condensate only a few years ago. With Rigden as an expert and engaging guide, we see how hydrogen captured the imagination of many great scientists--such as Heisenberg, Pauli, Schrödinger, Dirac, and Rabi--and how their theories and experiments with this simple atom led to such complex technical innovations as magnetic resonance imaging, the maser clock, and global positioning systems. Along the way, we witness the transformation of science from an endeavor of inspired individuals to a monumental enterprise often requiring the cooperation of hundreds of scientists around the world.

Still, any biography of hydrogen has to end with a question: What new surprises await us?

 

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User Review  - MarkBeronte - LibraryThing

Seduced by simplicity, physicists find themselves endlessly fascinated by hydrogen, the simplest of atoms. Hydrogen has shocked, it has surprised, it has embarrassed, it has humbled--and again and ... Read full review

Contents

Prologue
1
Hydrogen and the Big Bang
6
The Prout Hypothesis
12
A Swiss High School Teacher Finds a Pattern
19
A Paradigm for the Structure of Atoms
27
5 Relativity Meets the Quantum in the Hydrogen Atom
43
A Strange Number with Universal Signicance
52
The Hydrogen Atom Answers the Crucial Question
59
Quantum Electrodynamics as the Prototype Physical Theory
150
16 The Hydrogen Atom Portends an Anomaly with the Electron
161
17 Hydrogen Maps the Galaxy
171
A HighPrecision Clock
183
A Fundamental Constant
197
A Check on Big Bang Cosmology
211
The First Antiatom
223
22 The BoseEinstein Condensate for Hydrogen
234

Midwife to the Birth of Wave Mechanics
74
9 The Hydrogen Atom and Diracs Theory of the Electron
87
The Discovery of Deuterium
96
The Magnetic Moment of the Proton
103
The Origin of Magnetic Resonance Imaging
113
The Discovery of the Quadrupole Moment of the Deuteron
125
14 Magnetic Resonance in Bulk Matter NMR
137
From Theory to Technology
242
Epilogue
253
Notes
257
Acknowledgments
271
Credits
273
Index
275
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About the author (2003)

John S. Rigden is Adjunct Professor of Physics, Washington University in St. Louis.

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