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July 6, 2006
The Gecko's Foot: Bio-Inspiration: Engineering New Materials from Nature
Peter Forbes (2006)
Riding high on a new wave of nature inspired engineering science, British science writer Peter Forbes shows us how evolutionary adaptations are currently being applied to technology and engineering design. With such marvelous mechanisms already out there in nature we may well ask ourselves why it has taken so long for us to adopt them as our own. Looking back through history, there are plenty of examples of bio-inspired designs, such as da Vinci's flying machines, but it is only relatively recently that bio-inspired designs have catalyzed a true sea change in science, engineering and technology. Technologies such as electron scanning microscopes have allowed scientists to observe many of nature's finest design secrets, often only discernable at the nano level. A close inspection of the Cocklebur seed reveals the inspiration behind Georges de Mestral's hook-and-loop fastening Velcro, which he invented in 1948 after close examination of the seeds that kept sticking to his clothes. Scientists can plumb nature's depths and discover solutions for just about anything; from how certain creatures like the gecko can cling to and climb vertical surfaces, to how particular plants such as the lotus can self-clean. Forbes also shows how these bio-inspired designs are being put to use in solving real-world engineering problems. But not all bio experimentation has gone to plan, as the various teams trying to exploit the amazing properties of spider silk – either naturally or genetically engineered – have discovered. The Gecko's Foot is a fascinating read that will undoubtedly draw attention to the benefits of bio-inspired engineering design, which promises cleaner and more efficient technologies.
Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory And the Search for Unity in Physical Law
Peter Woit (2006)
While many of us are content to sit back and let the experts explain string theory to us, at least one physicist is becoming downright infuriated at the lack of scientific rigor being applied to such theories. Peter Woit, lecturer in the Mathematics Department of Columbia University, has become somewhat of a controversial character of late, arguing that string theory isn't even science. Woit has had to bare the brunt of all manner of personal attacks from the scientific community, who Woit believes are blindly advocating string theory as one would religious dogma. The book raises important questions in regard to physics and what constitutes a scientific theory if the theory is not even backed up by a testable hypothesis. And in a scientific climate filled with talk of extra dimensions and parallel worlds he may have a point. Has physics got ahead of itself? Is physics putting more stock into aesthetic speculation rather than real science? It was celebrated physicist Wolfgang Pauli who provided the title of Woit's book, as he used to call scientists dabbling in untestable ideas or concepts as “not even wrong." To this end, Woit explains how superstring theory is absent of mathematical veracity, logical consistency of argument, experimental evidence, and is instead validated solely by the authority of those advocating the theory. Furthermore, Woit adds that string theory makes no scientific predictions, not even wrong ones, and is impossible to falsify. Not Even Wrong is an extremely important book for anyone remotely interested in string theory and physics.
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