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Science Books

August 8, 2009

Collider: The Search For The World's Smallest Particles
Paul Halpern (2009)
ISBN: 0470286202

Dark energy, dark matter, multiverses, alternate dimension portals and the God particle all sound like the stuff of science fiction, yet they represent some of the core mysteries in physics today. Despite years of number crunching and inspired theorizing, without a clear empirical basis for their work physicists can but gaze into the inky blackness of space and wonder whether their particular theory is correct. But according to Paul Halpern, Professor of Physics and Mathematics at the Philadelphia's University of the Sciences, now that the switch has been flipped (sort of) on the Large Hadron Collider things have changed dramatically. The advent of the LHC means that there is a very powerful light now being shone on these most baffling of physics conundrums. With the arrival of the LHC and the ability to recreate the conditions immediately after the Big Bang, physicists now have the opportunity to discover the veracity of longstanding theories about the nature of reality. As with any powerful new technology, the LHC is plagued by apocalyptic stories of dread. The fear mongering suggestion that the LHC would create mini blackholes capable of dooming us all spread like wildfire, much to the delight of a sensationalist seeking media. Unfortunately, the media missed the most exciting aspect of the LHC, which is its potential to reveal phenomena beyond the imaginations of today's physicists.

The Alchemy Of Air: A Jewish Genius, A Doomed Tycoon, And The Scientific Discovery That Fed The World But Fueled The Rise Of Hitler
Thomas Hager (2009)
ISBN: 0307351793

Fixing nitrogen undoubtedly saved the world from mass starvation, but would its discoverers have kept the genie in the bottle had they known of the accompanying horrors that their breakthrough would unleash? In this tragedy from triumph story, veteran science writer Thomas Hager recounts the lives of fixed nitrogen founders Fritz Haber, who was pompous and overbearing, and Carl Bosch, a reclusive alcoholic. When they put their heads together, however, this odd-couple of science managed to convert airborne nitrogen into ammonia and then transform it into fertilizer - a method known as the Haber-Bosch process. But this triumphant chapter in human history, of turning air into bread and saving millions of lives, is not the end of the story. While nitrogen can be used to save lives, the Haber-Bosch process was also used to manufacture the explosives used in both world wars. In a Faustian-like pact, Haber and Bosch's personal desires were to ultimately undo the good that their Nobel Prize winning discovery initially brought to the world. Keen to renounce his Jewish heritage, Haber was only too happy to tow the German nationalist line, while Bosch became a voracious multinational industrial tycoon and head of the monolithic IG Farben company. Enter Adolf Hitler in 1933 and both men experienced a swift and sudden reality check, which culminated in their respective worlds crashing down around them. Hager's The Alchemy Of Air is not just a masterful account of two brilliant yet conflicted men, but of the incongruities of human nature.

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