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Science Books

January 18, 2008

Soft Machines: Nanotechnology And Life
Richard A. L. Jones (2007)

Since its explosion into the public arena, nanotechnology has lost some of its initial shine and popularity; primarily due to rumors of dodgy science and delays in nano-applications that our frenetic consumer culture finds difficult to tolerate. Sadly, nanotechnology has become a chimera that is associated more with the wheeling and dealing of the business world rather than our greatest hope for the future. But is this a fair judgment? In Soft Machines, Richard Jones, Dept of Physics and Astronomy University of Sheffield, explains the fundamental science behind nanotechnology, which in turn shows why the real nano revolution may still be many years off. Because nanotechnology is a science that deals in particles at the molecular level - particles that don't conform to the laws that govern larger objects - the learning curve for researchers is a lot steeper, and a lot slower. The relatively slow progress of nano research reflects the many complexities involved, which entail trying to comprehend how nature itself pieces together the world around us. In fact, researchers are taking their lead from nature and studying its every nuance as they would a blueprint; so that they may build from scratch "soft" machines that will revolutionize medicine, electronics, energy, and the environment. The more you read what Jones has to say about the science of nanotechnology, the more you begin to realize how much closer it is to biology than it is to engineering. Jones' comprehensive coverage of the issues, together with a clear and accessible writing style makes Soft Machines an invaluable authority on where nanotechnology is at today, and where it may lead us.

Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into The 3.5-Billion-Year History Of The Human Body
Neil Shubin (2007)
ISBN: 0375424474

While we may think that our complicated physiologies and big brains are pretty neat, have you ever stopped to wonder just how we got to this point? Scientific quibbling aside, the answer is evolution, of course. But evolutionary research is advancing all the time, and recently there have been some remarkable discoveries regarding our origins. Specifically, paleontologist Neil Shubin, professor of anatomy at the University of Chicago, shows us just how close and yet how far we are from other species, as we all travel along our respective evolutionary paths. Shubin has spent many years getting to grips with our own species by familiarizing himself with many other diverse species, such as worms, flies, and, surprisingly, fish. It may all sound a little bizarre, but the best way to understand the human body, and the myriad of diseases that plague it, is to find other species with features similar to our own. Fashion magazines everywhere celebrate the beauty and symmetry of the human head, but Shubin explains that our heads are assembled much like that of a long-extinct jawless fish (which might explain the British monarchy, but what about the rest of us?). There's something fishy about our hands, too, says Shubin: they resemble the fins of a fish. And it's not just fish that we share common features with; Shubin explains that important parts of our genome are just like, in both form and function, those found in bacteria and worms. Just under 2-years ago, Shubin himself was responsible for one of the most sensational biological finds ever - what you'd call a "missing link." Shubin's find was a fish that had elbows and a neck, which is evidence of a connection between land and sea creatures. Shubin does an admirable job at showing how evolutionary science remains one of the most lively and vibrant fields, and why it's important to get in touch with your inner fish.

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