DR HARRY CLIFF
PARTICLE PHYSICIST & AUTHOR
I'm a particle physicist at the University of Cambridge working on the LHCb experiment, a huge particle detector buried 100 metres underground at CERN near Geneva. I'm a member of an international team of around 1400 physicists, engineers and computer scientists who are using LHCb to study the basic building blocks of our universe, in search of answers to some of the biggest questions in modern physics.
I also spend a big chunk of my time sharing my love of physics with the public. I've just finished my first popular science book, How To Make An Apple Pie From Scratch, which was published in August 2021. From 2012 to 2018 I held a joint post between Cambridge and the Science Museum in London, where I curated two major exhibitions: Collider (2013) and The Sun (2018). I particularly enjoy talking about science in person and have given a large number of public talks, including at TED and the Royal Institution, alongside appearances on television, radio and podcasts.
I'm part of a large international team working on the LHCb Experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. LHCb is searching for signs of new particles that could help us understand some of the big unsolved problems in fundamental physics including the nature of dark matter and why the universe is made of matter and not antimatter.
I study B-mesons, which are exotic particles containing a bottom quark. These particles are produced in huge numbers by the Large Hadron Collider and recorded in exquisite detail by the LHCb detector.
I'm particularly interested in ultra-rare decays of these particles, which can be affected by new particles or forces that lie outside our current best theory, the Standard Model. By making precise measurements of these decays and comparing to what the Standard Model predicts, my colleagues and I hope to find the first signs of something altogether new.
My first (hopefully) popular science book, How To Make An Apple Pie From Scratch, came out in August 2021, published by Doubleday in the USA and Picador in the UK. It tells the story of one of humankind's most exciting intellectual journeys: the search for origin of matter. In the book I explore how physicists, astronomers and cosmologists uncovered the basic building blocks of matter and traced their origins through the hearts of dying stars and back to the Big Bang. It's also a reflection on where we stand after an exciting yet perplexing decade at the Large Hadron Collider, and where the next big breakthroughs in our understanding of matter may come from.
Oh, and, it's all told through the hopefully reassuring narrative device of searching for the ultimate apple pie recipe. Why an apple pie? Well...
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe
"witty, approachable and captivating"
"A delightfully fresh and accessible account of one of the great quests of science... the results go down a treat."
"Through a clear knowledge of many areas of physics..., the instincts of a good storyteller, and a wicked sense of humor, Cliff draws readers into the bizarre and beautiful world inside the atom.
[an] outstanding book, sometimes as funny as The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy"
Kirkus (starred review)
"Cliff describes complex ideas vividly and accessibly, and he’s got a knack for making theory exciting. This enlightening and entertaining outing is worth savoring."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"This book is a lot of fun... [it] lays out not just what we know, but how we found out (and what is left to be discovered), and gives us intriguing glimpses into the lives of the thinkers and tinkerers who put all the pieces together for us."
"Science is all about successful recipes and here’s a mouthwateringly good one for life, the universe and everything. The cosmic detail in chef Cliff’s climactic de novo apple pie makes the efforts of celebrity cooks seem thin and insubstantial."
“If you're looking for a popular science book that truly brings alive the thrill of particle physics research and what we have discovered about the building blocks of the Universe, then I urge you to look no further. Cliff's engaging and personable writing style, along with his infectious enthusiasm, follows in the best traditions of Feynman and Sagan. I don't say this very often about popular science writing, but this book really is a page-turner."
“Why is there stuff? Where did it all come from? Harry Cliff brings an experimental physicist’s willingness to get his hands dirty to these philosophical-sounding questions. This book is a fascinating exploration of how we learned what matter really is, and the journey matter takes from the Big Bang, through exploding stars, ultimately to you and me.”
“I love this book... fun, fast-paced and beautifully written. It covers a vast amount of ground whilst remaining easy to read: from the birth of modern chemistry through to the very latest ideas in particle physics. All done with a light-hearted rigour. It’s the best book of its type I have read. Brilliant."
"Cliff expertly mixes chemistry, physics, a dash of astronomy, and an abundance of humor, offering ...the most thorough and wonderfully appealing apple pie recipe of all time ... fascinating and easily digestible... he masterfully reassembles the history of human understanding into an astounding confection. Set your cosmic cooker to a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang and enjoy. Cliff’s review of the origins of matter and scientific mysteries still to be solved is a delicacy."
"Cliff is an expert writer who artfully takes on a complex subject in a comprehensible, entertaining, and humorous manner. He even describes his own childhood attempt to uncover the chemical composition of an apple pie. This fascinating work is highly recommended."
Library Journal (starred review)
I love talking about physics, particularly in front of a live audience. Get in touch if you'd like me to talk at your event, institution or school. I give a lot of public talks and lectures and have even tried my hand at standup comedy. There are some recent highlights below, and if you like this sort of thing you can find more on my YouTube channel.
In December 2015 I was invited to speak at TED Global. My talk, titled 'Have we reached the end of physics?' (short answer, definitely not) covered the Large Hadron Collider, what we still don't understand and where particle physics might be going. It has now been viewed over 2 million times.
For the past few years I've taught a lecture course, 'An Introduction to Particle Physics', at the Royal Institution in London. The course proved very popular and I've now repeated it three times and was asked to give an advanced course for the die-hard particle physics fans. Keep an eye on the RI site for news of future courses.
I've spoken at a number of festivals including Wilderness in 2021 and 2016, Kaleidoscope and Gravity Fields in 2018 and the World Science Festival, Brisbane in 2017. Some have been pretty straight science talks, others a bit more silly, as you can probably judge from the image below...