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Book Review: Unifying Physics of Accelerators, Lasers and Plasma

Book Review: Unifying Physics of Accelerators, Lasers and Plasma

| On 01, Mar 2016

Book author:  Andrei Seyri

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Ohler, Principal at BMGI

See the publishers website here
Discount code for TRIZ Journal readers: AZP98


With “Unifying Physics of Accelerators, Lasers and Plasma,” Seryi Andrei has written a fascinating account. It could and should be made more accessible to non-expert readers, namely to people holding key positions in science, industry and society. The book makes a bold and visionary pledge which it claims could, if successful, transform science and our daily lives. Finally, the author’s intention to not only unify accelerator, laser and plasma physics but also to accelerate the creation of novelty in science shows inspiring ways ahead.

When reading this densely and fluidly written book, we come to understand the author’s interpretation of the title is not descriptive but rather proactive – a term he uses repeatedly when discussing direction in science. Here may be the book’s strongest message: It is by combining deep expertise in different domains that breakthrough in science is generated. With his background in accelerator science, his deep insight into the historic evolution of the field, and his expertise in laser and plasma physics and related domains, the author may be uniquely positioned to suggest that the next revolution in accelerator physics be produced by building an X-ray laser source that capitalizes also on the mastery of plasmas. Besides his arguing for the Future Circular Collider (p. 242) as a successor to the Large Hadron Collider, this appears the book’s boldest pledge: “The most challenging, but also the most promising source is an X-ray source based on laser plasma acceleration, initially a betatron source, and ultimately, perhaps in less than a decade, a free electron laser” (p. 239) and “creating compact X-ray lasers is the challenge that accelerator science now needs to confront” (p. 237).

If the general public has vague ideas about accelerators, it is the Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva which not only led to the detection in 2012 of the Higgs boson but also is the grandest machine ever built by mankind: If today’s tourists admire the Pyramids, the Great Wall or the Colosseum, maybe the tourist of the year 2525 will wander through the remains of the LHC?

With Star Wars back on the screens, many are aware of the power of lasers beyond their usefulness from the now omnipresent pointers to their being an indispensable yet invisible component in the not-yet-extinct CD player. However, few non-physicists may be able to provide an accurate description of what “plasma” is and probably more than a few physicists may be surprised to read that plasma is now mastered to a point where it can serve to build a sophisticated high-performance optical element.

While unifying the physics of these three domains is the declared goal of the book, the most weight is given to accelerators, and this in terms of general explanation and detailed mathematical description, yet interestingly less so in the bibliography. Whether this emphasis on accelerators is dictated by their relevance or whether it rather flows from the author’s experience, passion or preference is left for the reader to guess. Why isn’t the laser explained more, and be it only in terms of coherence length? The term “coherence” is used a handful of times throughout the book but is assumed to be part of the reader’s body of knowledge. And why are we left to wonder about key properties of plasmas, or, when studying the bibliography, about a “hydrogen plasma waveguide” and maybe other optical elements? A more balanced account, in qualitative and quantitative description and also pointing out the advancements mankind has already achieved in these three domains, would be welcome.

With regards to quantitative, mathematical formulation and very much to the general reader’s delight, the preface promises “back of the envelope calculations.” This reviewer could follow many of those as they are made for synchrotron radiation, to which the entire chapter 3 is dedicated. Yet, before getting there and after a fascinating review of the basics of accelerators, the reader is sent through chapter 2 on “transverse dynamics.” With gravity-defying ease and undoubtable mathematical elegance, the author moves from one equation to the next, which together end up not fitting at all on commercially available envelopes, front-side included. As a consequence, the chapter risks leaving behind many a perplexed reader who is unfamiliar with curvilinear coordinate systems and also otherwise not up to a “theoretical minimum” (after the Russian physicist Lev Davidovitch Landau) in order to follow elaborate mental gymnastics involving coupled differential equations. At least some 20 years ago, not even a post-graduate curriculum in physics prepared for the reading of this chapter. It must therefore be left to experts in the field to judge how “tranverse dynamics” provide inspiring synthesis and enabling novelty to the otherwise known treatment of wigglers, undulators, bending magnets, quadro-, sextu- and octupoles. It would be a pity if the book’s other messages, insights and pledges were lost here on otherwise interested readers because they never progressed beyond chapter 2.

Experts and non-experts alike may regret that the book does not provide a glossary which could make it so much more accessible: plasma, lasers, optical elements for charged particles, X-rays and other types of radiation, betatrons, synchrotrons, cyclotrons, LINACs, e+e colliders, tevatrons, radars and many other terms and devices could all be explained in one place and in everyday language. The book also leaves the understanding of some of these devices entirely to the reader’s general education. That is even more unfortunate as some of them appear prominently, and only there, in the so-called Livingston plot (p. 5).

Most readers of the TRIZ journal may not be familiar with this graph which constitutes an impressive example for technology S-curves. Together with an insightful account of the parallels between the evolution of radars and lasers (p. 65 ff), the way these S-curves line up allows the author to predict a future instrument that will improve brilliance and coherence of light sources in the X-ray domain, which he considers likely to emerge from the unification of physics for accelerators, lasers and plasma. To tackle this challenge, the author argues, an “accelerating science” method needs to be employed and sees that method in the extension of TRIZ to science.


Livingston plot for accelerators. Copied from the book with permission of CRC Press, the author of the book and the author of illustrations Elena Seraia

It is generally accepted, also by the author, that the strength of TRIZ is grounded on the transfer of solutions beyond domains. Systematically, TRIZ produces breakthrough in one domain where the solution known in another was previously not applied. Here resides also the interest in a domain-agnostic contradiction matrix. In spite of a wealth of research on millions of patents, it can and does lead to long conversations, or even outright rejection by some, when Altshuller’s original 39 parameters are expanded into 48 (Matrix 2003[1]) or even 50 (for the Matrix 2010) and when it is suggested to split a “business” contradiction matrix off the “classical” matrix. In this context, we are surprised by the author’s short line of argumentation: “accelerator science is a distinct discipline, and it is only natural to add accelerator science-related parameters and inventive principles to TRIZ” (p. 14/15). Compared to the previously quoted re-formulations of contradiction parameters, the book lists only a few of the suggested “Accelerating Science” parameters. In the exercises at the end of each chapter, the reader is encouraged to suggest more. As unconventional as this heuristic method may be for the TRIZ community, it is in line with the recommendations the author has for teaching TRIZ: “…avoid the canonical, ready-to-use version of TRIZ. Instead, take the students through the process of proactively adapting TRIZ for science” (p. 241).

With the same ease, the author suggests the formulation of specific “Accelerating Science” solution principles. At least here one would expect a robust explanation: Research into the solution principles that nature applies started with the obvious assumption that more or different principles be at work in nature than the ones Altshuller had originally suggested. Yet, the result of these investigations has shown that nature seems to be using the same solution principles that are found in patent research (D. Mann in 2011 and D. Vandevenne et al. in 2013). We thus fail to understand why “updated AS-TRIZ principles” like “undamageable or already damaged,” “volume-to-surface-ratio,” “local correction,” “transfer between phase planes,” “from microwave to optical” or “time-energy correlation” may be needed – even more as the one-to-one correspondence for some of these with the “canonical” principles appears obvious. The regular reader of The TRIZ Journal might also miss a discussion of TRIZ methods other than the contradiction matrix.

Unfortunately, the foreword’s declaration to “discuss [in this book] how [TRIZ] may be used to cut the Gordian Knot of rising costs and complexity, which threaten to impede the development of more powerful instruments” remains still unconvincing: The chapters 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9 refer to TRIZ merely in the exercises (through an encouragement to identify new parameters or solution principles); and the chapters 4, 6 and 10 explain, however instructively, examples for parameters and principles. Among the 84 references in the bibliography we also find Altshuller’s “Innovation Algorithm” and K. Gadd’s “TRIZ for engineers” as only references to TRIZ. The scientific reader of the book may want to be better convinced to dive deeper into the study of TRIZ as a useful, and as the author claims, critical ingredient for success.

With all that said, it would be a great mistake for the reader versed in TRIZ methods to put the book aside too quickly. In “Aiming for the Pasteur Quadrant” (p. 233 ff) the author demonstrates in a discussion of different models for technology transfer, applied and fundamental research, as suggested by V. Bush in 1945 and by D. Stokes in 1987, how such mental models shape policy and thereby massively influence science, industry and society outcomes. It is the entire chapter on “Inventions and Innovations in Science” that should certainly be read by decision-makers in these fields.

That chapter also suggests a different model which plots “fundamental knowledge impact” versus “consideration of use.” For TRIZ practitioners, this model can turn out to be insightful: Isn’t the TRIZ work, as currently done in industry, in all its different approaches and variants, eventually including how nature “uses” TRIZ, confined to the “Edison quadrant” of high consideration of use and low fundamental knowledge impact? One comes to understand that working in the “Niels Bohr” quadrant of high fundamental knowledge impact and low consideration of use, the focus at the Large Hadron Collider for example, may indeed be quite different. In the light of this understanding, shouldn’t TRIZ practitioners be humbled and surprised that TRIZ be applicable at all in that quadrant? Could it be, then, that even solution principles be different in there?


Building a Large Hadron Collider, novel light sources and developing proton therapy as examples for programs related to different quadrants when looking at the fundamental knowledge impact and the consideration of use. Copied from the book with permission of CRC Press, the author of the book and the author of illustrations Elena Seraia

As a mental model, this graph supports and inspires new and interesting policies for the interplay of science, industry and society. It may turn out to be very useful in deciding where and how to invest scarce resources: As the author argues, the preferred direction is to move towards the “Pasteur quadrant” of high fundamental knowledge and high consideration of use.

Seryi Andrei has written an important, insightful and visionary book. We’d like to see barriers removed for readers who the messages of this book should definitely reach. Key arguments can be better defended, which will help clarify where the creation of novelty are similar and where they differ for the Bohr, the Pasteur and the Edison quadrant. That clarity will ultimately help learning from each other and working together, not only across industry domains but also “across quadrants,” as one might say.

With his impressive wealth and breadth of knowledge, his mastery of the underlying quantitative formulation and an outstanding ability to connect not only dots but entire domains, there is a lot one can learn from this book and quite likely also from the author himself.

[1] Mann, Darrell, Simon Dewulf, Boris Zlotin, and Alla Zusman. 2003. Matrix 2003: Updating the TRIZ contradiction matrix. Belgium: Creax Press.


Book cover created by Sasha Seraia and illustrations in the book and in the text of the review by Elena Seraia. The images are posted here with permission from CRC Press, the author of the book and the authors of the illustrations, Sasha Seraia and Elena Seraia