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Science Books

June 9, 2006

Walking Zero: Discovering Cosmic Space and Time Along the Prime Meridian
Chet Raymo (2006)
ISBN: 0802714943

In Walking Zero, Chet Raymo, Professor emeritus of astronomy and physics at Stonehill College, North Easton, takes an intellectual stroll along the Prime Meridian, while pointing out significant developments in humanity's struggle to understand its place in the universe. The world's standard for maps, the Prime Meridian makes for an apt metaphorical beginning to the history of human knowledge. During the course of Raymo's stroll, there also happen to be many scientific sights that mark significant scientific achievement throughout history: Charles Darwin's home; Isaac Newton's chambers at Trinity College; the location where dinosaur fossils were first discovered, and many more besides. Like a hypnotist, Raymo's skillful writing provokes vivid mental imagery of important scientific locations, which helps set the scene for his highly engaging and enlightening historical accounts. Raymo also encourages us to appreciate the often tumultuous times during which many of these revolutionary scientific ideas first emerged. In this regard, Raymo's fascinating historical insights reveal that a great scientist is often one who is dogged, tireless and willing to cut through contemporary traditions and orthodoxies of the day. While there have been similar books to this one, Raymo's approach to science and humanity is much more than just a history of the prime meridian and scientific achievement.

High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxins, and Human Health
Elizabeth Grossman (2006)
ISBN: 1559635541

Elizabeth Grossman, a nature writer who has written for Audubon, Amicus and Orion, turns her watchful eye on the mounting problem of high-tech waste. With technologies being updated at a ridiculous rate, we all have a nagging suspicion that there must be an awful lot of it about, but just where does it all end up? Grossman considers the irony of how new technologies were introduced to clean up the stink of old industry only to recognize that yet more toxins were being introduced into the environment. Those shiny, streamlined notebooks and mobile phones sure look nice and clean on the outside, but on the inside they contain a cocktail of highly toxic material. Such "e-waste" contains lead, mercury, cadmium and plastics, to name but a few of the unhealthy ingredients. But it is not just the chemicals themselves that comprise a major health hazard; it is the sheer magnitude of high-tech toxic waste that is discarded each year. Grossman explains that Americans own more than 2 billion pieces of digital technology and throw out an incredible 5-7 million tons per year, which accounts for two-thirds of the heavy metals and 40 percent of the lead found in U.S. landfills. This mammoth amount of toxic high-tech trash also affects people in other parts of the world, where it is shipped to be recycled under less than ideal conditions. Workers in China inhale highly toxic fumes as they melt down components over open fires near enormous high-tech waste dumps. "This is a story in which we all play a part, whether we know it or not. If you sit at a desk in an office, talk to friends on your cell phone, watch television, listen to music on headphones, are a child in Guangdong, or a native of the Arctic, you are part of this story," writes Grossman. High Tech Trash is a timely and chilling wake-up call that something needs to be done about our outrageous levels of e-waste, and quickly.

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