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On the Shoulders of Giants: Considering the Past and Future of Radioactivity with Lessons from the Lives of the Nobel Laureates

By: , Posted on: November 19, 2020

Each year, the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers highlights the very best in professional and scholarly publishing by awarding PROSE awards to distinguished books, journals, and electronic content. When long-time Elsevier collaborator Michael L’Annunziata’s book Radioactivity: Introduction and History, From the Quantum to Quarks (Elsevier, 2016) was recognized by the 2017 PROSE awards for chemistry and physics, alongside Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the Physics of the Universe (Princeton University Press, 2016) by Sir Roger Penrose, little did either author know that just three short years later Penrose would share in the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics.

However, it is particularly fitting that of L’Annunziata’s many excellent publications it was Radioactivity that sat alongside the work of a future Nobel Laureate, as this book beautifully threads together fundamental research with human progress by highlighting the work of a long line of esteemed Nobel laureates in the field. L’Annunziata’s book delves into the human lives behind key discoveries, with the successes and battles faced by each providing both a link to the past and insight for the future. Many of the challenges he reflects on in the book will be heavily familiar to contemporary readers; as well as driving their own work forward, scientists still face similar challenges in establishing a place within their communities, pondering the repercussions of past and ongoing work in their fields, and communicating complex discoveries in a way that ensures the importance of their work is recognized by those outside of the field as well as those within it. 

The titles by both L’Annunziata and Penrose relay thought-provoking messages to the reader, encouraging them to think beyond the foundational knowledge in their fields. Penrose highlights and reflects on the role and challenge of subjectivity in modern physics. L’Annunziata, meanwhile, underscores the tremendous beneficial peaceful applications of nuclear technology, such as nuclear medicine and future clean energy via nuclear fusion, whilst simultaneously stressing the tremendous threat that nuclear weapons place on our welfare and future existence.

Providing an in-depth historical and scientific account, progressing from the discovery of radioactivity through the development of nuclear science and technology to our current understanding of the Standard Model of particle physics, L’Annunziata highlights the historical developments that lead to the development of nuclear weapons and the writing of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto drafted by Bertrand Russell (polymath, pacifist, philosopher and Nobel Laureate 1950), signed by Albert Einstein on April 11, 1955 (one week before his passing), signed by other Nobel Laureates, and published on July 9, 1955. Drawing on the work and lives of these figures and highlighting the quest of Nobel Laureates Niels Bohr, Joseph Rotblot and others towards nuclear nonproliferation L’Annunziata provides readers with a glimpse of the overwhelming burden that will be carried by our younger and future generations to achieve the reduction and elimination of the world’s nuclear weapon stockpiles, but simultaneously gives a sense of hope that by continuing this quest, they may help assure the positive progress and development of humankind. 

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Michael L’Annunziata has several publications available on Elsevier platforms. Shop these books on the Elsevier bookstore and save 30% + get free shipping with promo code STC30.

Radioactivity 2nd Edition: Introduction and History, From the Quantum to Quarks (2016) Read on ScienceDirect or buy on the bookstore

Handbook of Radioactivity Analysis 4th Edition: Volume 1: Radiation Physics and Detectors (2020, pictured above) Read on ScienceDirect or buy on the bookstore

Handbook of Radioactivity Analysis 4th Edition: Volume 2: Radioanalytical Applications (2020) Read on ScienceDirect or buy on bookstore


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