Life and (Smashing) Physics

Smashing Physics

My book, Smashing Physics, is available here and at all good bookshops. Here’s the review by Graham Farmelo for Guardian Books. For other reviews, see below.

proofsIf you want your copy signed, or to hear me talk about it, here are some opportunities:

16 September Maidstone Skeptics in the Pub

26 September Glasgow Skeptics Special

27 September 3pm Gravity Fields Festival, Grantham

2 October 6pm Institute of Physics

15 October 6pm UCL

28 October Cheltenham Skeptics in the Pub


The launch event at the Royal Institution, introduced and chaired by Brian Cox.

Guardian Science podcast; Inspireland Podcast; May update of the Cosmic Genome plus free video trailer.

Past events

“An excellent, accessible guide to one of science’s greatest discoveries…  vivid insights into the doing of science, including the customs of various scientific tribes at CERN…” – reviewed by Roger Highfield in the Sunday Times.

the mix of technical description, anecdote and humour works brilliantly and feels completely fresh in my experience of science writing – it really unlocks the holy grail of combining entertainment and understanding. Mike Paterson of PFILM.

The discovery of the Higgs boson made headlines around the world. Two scientists, Peter Higgs and François Englert, whose theories predicted its existence, shared a Nobel Prize. The discovery was the culmination of the largest experiment ever run, the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. But what really is a Higgs boson and what does it do? How was it found? How has its discovery changed our understanding of the fundamental laws of nature? And what did it feel like to be part of it?

- riveting! Gonzo journalism but in the entrails of experimental particle physics Pedro G. Ferreira, author of  The Perfect Theory”.

Jon Butterworth is one of the leading physicists at CERN and this book is the first popular inside account of the hunt for the Higgs. It is a story of incredible scientific collaboration, inspiring technological innovation and ground-breaking science. It is also the story of what happens when the world’s most expensive experiment blows up, of neutrinos that may or may not travel faster than light, and the reality of life in an underground bunker in Switzerland.

Smashing Physics will leave you with a working knowledge of the new physics and what the discovery of the Higgs particle means for how we define the laws of nature. It will take you to the cutting edge of modern scientific thinking.

“This is a unique book, which captures the highs and lows of the last 20 years of particle physics, culminating with the discovery of the Higgs Boson. I’ve known Jon for most of my career – he’s an insightful, creative, diplomatic and occasionally outspoken physicist, and every facet of his character is on display in this beautifully written book. If you want to know what being a professional scientist is really like, read it!” - Brian Cox

“This is more than just another telling of the story of the hunt for the Higgs at the LHC – the reader here is utterly immersed in the politics, excitement and sheer intellectual adventure of discovery… from someone who was actually there! The process of scientific research is laid bare in all its glory, warts and all, and emerges as a delightful example of what is best about human intellectual endeavour.” - Jim Al-Khalili

“its conversational tone, its blend of explication and opinion, its self-deprecating humour and the occasional well-directed barb.”    “… charming, enlightening bulletin from one of the most exciting fields of human endeavour” – reviewed  by Graham Farmelo, in the Guardian.

There is also a review in New Scientist which says the book: “… contains a fascinating inside perspective of the discovery of the Higgs boson. It offers an insight into the intense, bewildering and intimidating media scrutiny that physicists aren’t used to, combined with intimate details about the life of a high-powered physicist and some lovely explanations of the physics behind the discovery.” However, though the reviewer (Michael Slezak) likes the “Physics” parts he isn’t keen on the the “Life” bits. Oh well, if you don’t want that, probably best skip it…

“For those of us who spent physics lessons gazing out a classroom window, he breaks down how the Large Hadron Collider has searched for the Higgs boson in terms you could have a stab at regurgitating in the pub.”    “During the Age of Enlightenment, such public discussion of discoveries was not unusual.” – reviewed by Dan Carrier in the Camden New Journal (my local paper).

Any book that starts with kebabs, pool and our friend @TomClarkeC4 is a winner with me. @jonmbutterworth‘s Smashing Physics gets 3 ticks.

“Readers who are willing to do a bit of work to understand the material will find this a smashing journey.” review in Physics World

Smashing Physics is a great read if you’re curious about the Higgs boson, the work done at the LHC, what it’s like to be a physicist or how life as a research scientist has to dovetail with the ‘real’ world in terms of politics, economics and justifying to the public why science is important and should be funded. If you’re remotely curious about the universe, read this.”  Steven Thompson at Physics Steve

It was also in the Observer‘s  Top Ten for May.

The book will also be released by Audible as an audio book, in the US by The Experiment, and is being translated into German by Kosmos Verlag, and Chinese.

Life and Physics Blog

As of 31/8/2010 this blog mainly moved to a new home at The Guardian. These pages will stay here too though and I occasionally add things which don’t really belong on the Guardian for whatever reason.

After participating in a panel discussion about science blogging I wrote this about why I blog.

Versions of two of the posts in this blog have appeared in the New Scientist‘s S-Word, one of which received a response from the Science Minister. Several more appeared in the Guardian‘s science blog even before I moved the main blog over there.



I’m a physics professor at UCL, where I am Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. I do my research in the High Energy Physics group on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Contact details, links and more research & professional information on my homepage at UCL. Also, I am on twitter, and here are some thoughts on why.


The content of these pages is my own, and unless explicitly stated otherwise it doesn’t represent the official views of UCL, ATLAS, Science Board, STFC, the Royal Society, the Butterworth family, English people with brown hair or any other group I am employed by or associated with. In fact, damn it, sometimes they aren’t even my own official views.


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