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The HERMES Experiment cover

This book describes the story of how a collaboration of several hundred physicists from Europe and North America formed in 1988 to design, construct, install, commission and operate, for the years 1995–2007 the technically innovative HERMES experiment at the DESY laboratory in Hamburg, Germany to study the spin structure of the fundamental structure of matter. The authors begin by introducing the fascinating world of subatomic physics and relate their personal story of how the HERMES experiment came about. Guided by the exciting idea to use a new type of target internal to an electron storage ring, the HERMES collaboration was born to realize this innovative experimental approach at the new HERA accelerator at DESY. The book describes the technical design of HERMES; the successful effort to secure the necessary funds to construct the experiment in different countries; the fabrication of the different components by the different HERMES institutes; and the story of the installation and commissioning of HERMES in the East Hall of HERA in the hot summer of 1995. Until 2007, when the operation of HERA ceased, the collider ran typically about 9 months per year continuously, during which HERMES data taking shifts were manned to ensure that data of the highest quality were acquired. The book describes the HERMES scientific results, their considerable impact, how HERMES shaped an entire generation of young people into scientific leaders, and ends with a description of the twenty-first century picture of the proton that has subsequently been developed.

The authors played a leading role within the HERMES collaboration. They describe, using non-technical language, the various phases of the thirteen years of running, the social life in such an international collaboration, and their personal reminiscences over several decades.

Related Link(s)

Sample Chapter(s)
Chapter 1: Quest to Understand the Fundamental Structure of Matter

  • Quest to Understand the Fundamental Structure of Matter
  • The Proton's Spin
  • HERMES: A New Way to Study the Origin of Proton and Neutron Spin
  • Realizing the HERMES Experiment
  • HERMES Scientific Output
  • Building on the Legacy of HERMES
  • HERMES Collaboration
  • Appendices:
    • Primer on Units, Scientific Notation, and Technical Terms
    • List of Acronyms
    • A Short History of Spin
Readership: Students and researchers in nuclear and particle physics and general public interested in how large-scale experimental scientific research originates and is carried out.
Free Access
  • Pages:i–xv

Free Access
Chapter 1: Quest to Understand the Fundamental Structure of Matter
  • Pages:1–21

No Access
Chapter 2: The Proton’s Spin
  • Pages:23–37

No Access
Chapter 3: HERMES: A New Way to Study the Origin of Proton and Neutron Spin
  • Pages:39–80

No Access
Chapter 4: Realizing the HERMES Experiment
  • Pages:81–128

No Access
Chapter 5: HERMES Scientific Output
  • Pages:129–148

No Access
Chapter 6: Building on the Legacy of HERMES
  • Pages:149–166

No Access
Chapter 7: HERMES Collaboration
  • Pages:167–192

No Access
  • Pages:193–222

Free Access
  • Pages:223–228

"Many books have been written about the history of the world, few, however, about the history of big scientific endeavors. The 'Personal Story of the HERMES Experiment' is a beautiful illustration of many facets of doing science. It shows how scientific progress comes about, starting from the motivation, a key scientific question, dreams about how to find answers, crazy ideas, first concrete plans, and the hard work of many enthusiastic people, young and old. Understanding the origin of spin is a key question in physics and the HERMES experiment has become a landmark on the way to find the answer. The book describes in a very readable way the physics, new ideas, technical innovations, the construction of the experiment, the challenges assembling a collaboration and of working at an accelerator, the collection and analysis of the data and the right human chemistry needed to make it all work. It is a wonderful recollection for those who were participating in the HERMES experiment, and offers at the same time for the outsider fascinating insights into the human factor in science. I congratulate the authors and thank them for sharing their personal story."

Albrecht Wagner
Chairman Emeritus, Board of Directors
DESY, Germany

"The HERMES Experiment: A personal story by R Milner and E Steffens tells a fascinating story how one of the most important modern experiments on the structure of the proton was conceived, realized, and finished with a bang. The authors explained the scientific drive to understand the microscopic structure of matter at its deepest level, particularly about the origin of the proton spin, in a lucid language. Equally interesting and stimulating are the personal and inside stories behind the HERMES scientific accomplishments, a great read for graduate students as well as for scientists who have been closely involved in the subject."

Xiangdong Ji
University of Maryland, USA

"I really enjoyed reading the HERMES book. What a treat to revive all the great memories, seeing the nice pictures and smiles of so many of our colleagues and remembering all those soccer matches and other social events. Indeed, there were so many magical moments. Thank you for your efforts and capturing so well the spirit of HERMES."

Wolfgang Lorenzon
University of Michigan, USA

"This is not only a review book enthusiastically written by two of the fathers of HERMES. Its pages transport you to the times of a groundbreaking experiment that showed the beauty and the importance of the physics of polarized collisions."

Pasquale Di Nezza
National Institute of Nuclear Physics, Frascati, Italy

"The book is a passionate and accurate description of the 20 years of the HERMES experiment searching for the proton's spin structure, from its conception to its legacy. It is addressed not only to a specialized audience, but, as the authors declare, their wish is also that 'the curious reader … will develop an appreciation for how a large scientific experiment can be conceived and realized … and future generation of young scientists can find inspiration … to address the profound questions they face in seeking to understand the physical world'."

Paolo Lenisa
Chair of Nuclear and Subnuclear Physics
University of Ferrara, Italy

"Richard Milner and Erhard Steffens provide extensive insights, in particular into the historic aspects of HERMES, which are difficult to obtain elsewhere. The book gives an insightful discussion of the installation of the experiment and of the outstanding efforts of a group of highly motivated and dedicated individuals who worked too often in complete ignorance of (or in defiance of) standard working hours. Their account enthrals the reader with vivid anecdotes, surprising twists and personal stories, all told in a colloquial style. This book makes for worthwhile and enjoyable reading, not only for people familiar with the subject but equally for outsiders." See full review

CERN Courier

Richard Milner has been a professor in the MIT Department of Physics since 1988. He did his undergraduate studies at University College Cork, Ireland, and received his PhD in 1985 from Caltech. His research focuses on understanding nucleon and nuclear structure using the lepton probe, frequently using spin observables and over the energy range of 2.5 MeV to 27 GeV. He has proposed and led experiments at SLAC, IUCF, MIT, DESY, and Jefferson Lab.

Erhard Steffens obtained his Dr rer. nat. (U. of Hamburg) in 1973. He worked at the MPI-K Heidelberg from 1976 to 1994 on spin-polarized beams and targets, initially for FILTEX/CERN, then HERMES/DESY (1995–2007), with one year (1984) at CERN in the LEAR accelerator group. In 1986 he got his Habilitation at the University of Heidelberg. In 1995 he became Professor of Physics at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg and continued to serve various roles in high energy physics projects such as HERMES and LHCspin.