I've been reading a lot lately about alchemy, and was therefore delighted to find a new book on the history of chemistry (that includes some on alchemy), just published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Trevor Levere takes on the impossible task of chronicling the developments in chemistry from its beginning to the present, in only a little over 200 pages.
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As a physical chemist, I was amazed when it was discovered that the diatomic free radical, nitric oxide (NO) was intimately involved in the transmission of neurological information in mammals. Now a group led by Barry Trimmer at Tufts University has demonstrated that it is the key that turns on bioluminescence in fireflies.
What do you think of when someone mentions DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichlorethane)? Chances are that your mind immediately goes to the damage the use of this chemical has done to bird populations, Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring", and the effort to ban or control its use.
"Brunelleschi's Dome" is an excellent example of technology in an historical context. The author, Ross King, focuses on one of the great achievements of medieval technology, the construction of the dome of the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, in Florence, Italy.
The word "Surviving" should probably be underlined in the title of this first-hand account by an American astro/cosmonaut of his experiences aboard Mir. There is precious little science in this book, but a great deal about living at the mercy of technology and Russian bureaucracy.
Try this! Take two identical cans of soda (or some other beverage). Roll then down a slight incline to confirm that they roll at about the same speed. What do you think will happen if you shake up one can and roll them again? Make a prediction. Then try it. Have your students do it. Develop hypotheses and test them. This is a terrific experiment that anyone can do.
I first read "One Two Three... Infinity" when I was twelve years old (it was the edition published in 1946!) and it had a strong influence in my decision to pursue science as a career.
It has been twenty years since Luis Alvarez suggested that the dinosaurs were extinguished by a meteor impact that killed much of the life on earth. His evidence was in a thin layer of iridium-rich soil that corresponded with the extinction, and the fact that iridium is much more abundant in some meteors than it is on earth.
Even readers who already know something about forensic science are likely to learn from "Hidden Evidence" about historic cases that have been solved by science. Unfortunately, there are so few details provided in the book that the most interesting questions often remain unanswered.