Brilliant Blunders : from Darwin to Einstein--colossal mistakes by great scientists that changed our understanding of life and the universe., by Mario Livio
Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein were all brilliant scientists. Each made groundbreaking contributions to his field--but each also stumbled badly. Darwin's theory of natural selection shouldn't have worked, according to the prevailing beliefs of his time. Not until Gregor Mendel's work was known would there be a mechanism to explain natural selection. How could Darwin be both wrong and right? Lord Kelvin, Britain's leading scientific intellect at the time, gravely miscalculated the age of the earth. Linus Pauling, the world's premier chemist (who would win the Nobel Prize in chemistry) constructed an erroneous model for DNA in his haste to beat the competition to publication. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle dismissed the idea of a "Big Bang" origin to the universe (ironically, the caustic name he gave to this event endured long after his erroneous objections were disproven). And Albert Einstein, whose name is synonymous with genius, speculated incorrectly about the forces that hold the universe in equilibrium--and that speculation opened the door to brilliant conceptual leaps. These five scientists expanded our knowledge of life on earth, the evolution of the earth itself, and the evolution of the universe, despite and because of their errors. As Mario Livio luminously explains, the scientific process advances through error. Mistakes are essential to progress. Read Carl Zimmer's review in the New York Times to learn more about the book.
Bug Music: how insects gave us rhythm and noise, by David Rothenberg
In the spring of 2013 the cicadas in the Northeastern United States will yet again emerge from their seventeen-year cycle--the longest gestation period of any animal. Those who experience this great sonic invasion compare their sense of wonder to the arrival of a comet or a solar eclipse. This unending rhythmic cycle is just one unique example of how the pulse and noise of insects has taught humans the meaning of rhythm, from the whirr of a cricket's wings to this unfathomable and exact seventeen-year beat. In listening to cicadas, as well as other humming, clicking, and thrumming insects, Bug Music is the first book to consider the radical notion that we humans got our idea of rhythm, synchronization, and dance from the world of insect sounds that surrounded our species over the millions of years over which we evolved. Completing the trilogy he began with Why Birds Sing and Thousand Mile Song, David Rothenberg explores a unique part of our relationship with nature and sound--the music of insects that has provided a soundtrack for humanity throughout the history of our species. Bug Music continues Rothenberg's in-depth research and spirited writing on the relationship between human and animal music, and it follows him as he explores insect influences in classical and modern music, plays his saxophone with crickets and other insects, and confers with researchers and scientists nationwide.
Full-Rip 9.0: the next big earthquake in the Pacific Northwest, by Sandi Doughton
Potential bad news for those folks in the Pacfific Northwest, Scientists have identified Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver as the urban centers of what will be the biggest earthquake, also called a mega-quake, in the continental United States. A quake will happen--in fact it's actually overdue. The Cascadia subduction zone is 750 miles long, running along the Pacific coast from Northern California up to southern British Columbia. In this fascinating book, The Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton introduces readers to the scientists who are dedicated to understanding the way the earth moves and describes what patterns can be identified and how prepared (or not) people are. With a 100% chance of a mega-quake hitting the Pacific Northwest, this fascinating book reports on the scientists who are trying to understand when, where, and just how big the big one will be.
Heart of Darkness: unraveling the mysteries of the invisible universe, by Jeremiah P. Ostriker & Simon Mitton
Heart of Darkness describes the incredible saga of humankind's quest to unravel the deepest secrets of the universe. Over the past thirty years, scientists have learned that two little-understood components--dark matter and dark energy--comprise most of the known cosmos, explain the growth of all cosmic structure, and hold the key to the universe's fate. The story of how evidence for the so-called "Lambda-Cold Dark Matter" model of cosmology has been gathered by generations of scientists throughout the world is told here by one of the pioneers of the field, Jeremiah Ostriker, and his coauthor Simon Mitton. The story is far from complete, however, as scientists confront the mysteries of the ultimate causes of cosmic structure formation and the real nature and origin of dark matter and dark energy.
Heat: adventures in the world's fiery places , by Bill Streever
Bill Streever sets off to find out what heat really means. Let him be your guide and you'll firewalk across hot coals and sweat it out in Death Valley, experience intense fever and fire, learn about the invention of matches and the chemistry of cooking, drink crude oil, and explore thermonuclear weapons and the hottest moment of all time-the big bang. Melting glaciers, warming oceans, forest fires, droughts-it's clear that today's world is getting hotter. But while we know the agony of a sunburn or the comfort of our winter heaters, do we really understand heat? Read this alongside Streever's earlier book Cold: adventures in the world's frozen places to get get the full story.
Imperial Dreams: tracking the imperial woodpecker through the wild Sierra Madre , by Tim Gallagher
Explorer and naturalist Tim Gallagher is obsessed with rare birds. A decade ago, Gallagher was one of the re-discoverers of the legendary ivory-billed woodpecker, which most scientists believed had been extinct for more than half a century--an event that caused an international stir. Now, in Imperial Dreams, Gallagher once again hits the trail, journeying deep into Mexico's savagely beautiful Sierra Madre Occidental, home to rich wildlife, as well as to Mexican drug cartels, in a perilous quest to locate the most elusive bird in the world--the imperial woodpecker, a giant among its clan.
Life's Ratchet: how molecular machines extract order from chaos , by Peter M. Hoffmann
Below the calm, ordered exterior of a living organism lies microscopic chaos, or what Peter Hoffmann calls the "molecular storm", specialized molecules immersed in a whirlwind of colliding water molecules. Our cells are filled with molecular machines, which, like tiny ratchets, transform random motion into ordered activity, and create the "purpose" that is the hallmark of life. Tiny electrical motors turn electrical voltage into motion, nanoscale factories custom-build other molecular machines, and mechanical machines twist, untwist, separate and package strands of DNA. The cell is like a city, an unfathomable, complex collection of molecular workers working together to create something greater than themselves. Life, Hoffman argues, emerges from the random motions of atoms filtered through these sophisticated structures of our evolved machinery.
Red Rover: inside the story of robotic space exploration, from Genesis to the Curiosity rover, by Roger Wiens
In its eerie likeness to Earth, Mars has long captured our imaginations, both as a destination for humankind and as a possible home to extraterrestrial life. It is our 21st century New World; its explorers robots, shipped 350 million miles from Earth to uncover the distant planet's secrets. Its most recent scout is Curiosity, a one-ton, Jeep-sized nuclear-powered space laboratory, which is now roving the Martian surface to determine whether the red planet has ever been physically capable of supporting life. In Red Rover, geochemist Roger Wiens, the principal investigator for the ChemCam laser instrument on the rover and veteran of numerous robotic NASA missions, tells the unlikely story of his involvement in sending sophisticated hardware into space, culminating in the Curiosity rover's amazing journey to Mars.
The Right Chemistry: 108 enlightening, nutritious, health-conscious and occasionally bizarre inquiries into the science of everyday life, by Joe Schwarcz
A big part of Dr. Joe Schwarcz's job as director of McGill University's Office of Science and Society is persuading people that the pursuit of science knowledge is a potential source of wonder, enlightenment and well-being for everyone. And as a chemist, he's particularly keen to rescue chemistry from the bad rep it's developed over recent decades. There is more to chemistry than toxins, pollution, and "Don't drink that soda--it's full of chemicals." The evangelic zeal Schwarcz brings to his day job is also the driving force behind his work as an author. Once again, here he is to tell that everything is full of chemicals, and that chemistry means health, nutrition, beauty products, cleaning products, DNA, and the means by which Lady Gaga's meat dress was held together. In the style established with the bestselling Brain Fuel, each section here is themed and contains a mixture of short, pithy items and slightly longer mini-essays. You will learn whether to put broccoli on a pizza before or after baking, whether beauty pills are worth taking, and whether the baby shampoo you're using is poisonous. You will discover but not use, please, the recipe for a Molotov cocktail. You will be enabled to enthrall fellow dinner guests with the derivation of the name Persil, and the definition of a kangarian (it's someone who only eats kangaroo meat).
The Way of Science: finding truth and meaning in a scientific worldview, by Dennis R. Trumble
Most people appreciate science on an obvious level. Modern medicine, electric lighting, rapid transportation, and long-distance communication are among the many benefits of science that have made life today healthier and more comfortable than people in earlier eras could have imagined. This book is about a deeper benefit of science, one that, while less obvious, may prove to be far more important in the long run: namely, the ability to look beyond our preconceptions and see the world and ourselves in a truer light. The author makes a compelling case that now more than ever the public at large needs to appreciate the critical-thinking tools that science has to offer and be educated in basic science literacy. Trumble emphasizes that the methods and facts of science are accessible to everyone, and that, contrary to popular belief, understanding science does not require extraordinary intelligence. He also notes that scientific rationality and critical thinking are not only good for our physical well-being but also are fully in sync with our highest moral codes. He illustrates the many ways in which the scientific worldview offers a profound sense of wonder, connectedness, and optimism about the human condition, an inspiring perspective that satisfies age-old spiritual aspirations. At a time of daunting environmental challenges and rampant misinformation, this provides a welcome corrective and reason to hope for the future.