Archive for April, 2007

The Gecko’s Foot: Bio-Inspiration–Engineering New Materials From Nature

April 27, 2007

From the book jacket:

Bio-inspiration is the new engineering: nature’s own nanotechnology. Instead of-in crude terms-welding large pieces of hard, “dry,” right-angled metal together, scientists, architects, and engineers are now taking a leaf from nature’s book by building intricate structures with surprising new properties, using the kind of “wet” self-assembly techniques that nature has perfected over millions of years of evolution.

The quest to match the amazing adhesion of the gecko’s foot is just one of many examples of this new science. In Peter Forbe’s engaging book we also discover how George de Mestral’s brush with the spiny fruits of the cocklebur inspired him to invent the hook-and-loop fastener usually known by its trade name Velcro; how unfolding leaves, insect wings, and space solar panels share similar origami folding patterns; how the self-cleaning leaves of the sacred lotus plant spawned a new industry of self-cleaning surfaces; and how the photonic crystal, perhaps the most important innovation since the transistor, was actually invented by the humble sea create Aphrodite eons ago.

The new “smart” science of bio-inspiration is going to produce a plethora of products over the next decades that will transform our lives and force us to look at the world in a completely new way. It is the science we will be reading about in tomorrow’s papers; it is the science of tomorrow’s world.

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Fire Mountains of the West: The Cascade and Mono Lake Volcanoes, 3rd Edition

April 27, 2007

From the book jacket:

Fire Mountains of the West is a completely revised, thoroughly researched account of the volatile history and deadly potential of volcanic activity from California to southwestern British Columbia. The heart of the book is a fascinating biography of each of the major volcanoes of the West. From the subterranean lava tube caves of the Medicine Lake volcano to the fire-and-ice formation of Mount Garibaldi, from the cataclysmic collapse of Crater Lake to the incinerating blast of modern Mount St. Helens, and from deadly volcanic gas currently killing trees at Mammoth Mountain to massive mudflows waiting to burst from Mount Rainier, this book brings to life in dynamic, crystal-clear language the geologic story of our western mountainscape.

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Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom

April 26, 2007

From the book’s preface:

The key to understanding form is development, the process through which a single-celled egg gives rise to a complex, multi-billion-celled animal. This amazing spectacle stood as one of the great unsolved mysteries of biology for nearly two centuries. And development is intimately connected to evolution because it is through changes in embryos that changes in form arise. Over the past two decades, a new revolution has unfolded in biology. Advances in developmental biology and evolutionary developmental biology (dubbed “Evo Devo”) have revealed a great deal about the invisible genes and some simple rules that shape animal form and evolution. Much of what we have learned has been so stunning and unexpected that it has profoundly reshaped our picture of how evolution works. Not a single biologist, for example, ever anticipated that the same genes that control the making of an insect’s body and organs also control the making of our bodies.

This book tells the story of this new revolution and its insights into how the animal kingdom has evolved. My goal is to reveal a vivid picture of the process of making animals and how various kinds of changes in that process have molded the different kinds of animals we know today and those from the fossil record.

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Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture

April 26, 2007

How Politics is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture

From the book jacket:

The genetic revolution has offered more promise than substance, except in agriculture, where it has brought profound benefits to farmers and consumers for more than a decade. More nutritious food is now produced with less environmental costs because genetically modified crops require almost no pesticides. Vitamin-enhanced crops and foods are helping to reduce malnutrition in parts of the developing world, and a wave of biopharmaceuticals is being developed. Yet, for all its achievements and promise, agricultural biotechnology is under intense fire from and fanning fear of a “corporate takeover” of agriculture by biotech firms. Mired in a rancorous trade and cultural war between Europe and the United States and inflamed by a politicized media, this technology remains dramatically underutilized, with particularly tragic consequences for millions of starving people in Africa and other poverty-stricken regions.

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Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, & Power

April 25, 2007

From the book jacket:
Chicken–both the bird and the food–has played multiple roles in the lives of African American women from the slavery era to the present. It has provided food and a source of income for their families, shaped a distinctive culture, and helped women define and exert themselves in racist and hostile environments. Psyche A. Williams-Forson examines the complexity of black women’s legacies using food as a form of cultural work. While acknowledging the negative interpretations of black culture associated with chicken imagery, Williams-Forson focuses her analysis on the ways black women have forged their own self-definitions and relationships to the “gospel bird.”Exploring material ranging from personal interviews to the comedy of Chris Rock, from commercial advertisements to the art of Kara Walker, and from cookbooks to literature, Williams-Forson considers how black women arrive at degrees of self-definition and self-reliance using certain foods. She demonstrates how they defy conventional representations of blackness in relationship to these foods and exercise influence through food preparation and distribution.

Understanding these phenomena clarifies how present interpretations of blacks and chicken are rooted in a past that is fraught with both racism and agency. The traditions and practices of feminism, Williams-Forson argues, are inherent in the foods women prepare and serve.

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AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War

April 25, 2007

From the book jacket:
Long before there was VHS versus Betamax, Windows versus Macintosh, or Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD, the first and nastiest standards war was fought between alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC).

AC/DC tells the little-known story of how Thomas Edison bet wrong in the fierce war between supporters of alternating current and direct current. The savagery of this electrical battle can hardly be imagined today. The showdown between AC and DC began as a rather straightforward conflict between technical standards, a battle of competing methods to deliver essentially the same product, electricity. But the skirmish soon metastasized into something bigger and darker. In the AC/DC battle, the worst aspects of human nature somehow got caught up in the wires; a silent, deadly flow of arrogance, vanity, and cruelty. Following the path of least resistance, the war of currents soon settled around that most primal of human emotions: fear. AC/DC serves as an object lesson in bad business strategy and poor decision making. Edison’s inability to see his mistake was a key factor in his loss of control over the “operating system” for his future inventions—not to mention the company he founded, which would later become General Electric.

The battle over whether alternating or direct current would be the standard for transmitting electricity around the world changed the lives of billions of people, shaped the modern technological age, and set the stage for all standards wars to follow. Today’s Digital Age wizards can take lessons from Edison’s fierce battle—control an invention’s technical standard and you control the market.

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Napoleon’s Buttons: 17 Molecules that Changed History

April 25, 2007

From the book jacket:
Though many factors have been proposed to explain the failure of Napoleon’s 1812 Russian campaign, it has also been linked to something as small as a button-a tin button, the kind that fastened everything from the greatcoats of Napoleon’s officers to the trousers of his foot soldiers. When temperatures drop below 56°F, tin crumbles into powder. Were the soldiers of the Grande Arm& evacutee fatally weakened by cold because the buttons of their uniforms fell apart? How different our world might be if tin did not disintegrate at low temperatures and the French had continued their eastward expansion!

This fascinating book tells the stories of seventeen molecules that, like the tin of those buttons, greatly influenced the course of history. These molecules provided the impetus for early exploration and made possible the ensuing voyages of discovery. They resulted in grand feats of engineering and spurred advances in medicine; lie behind changes in gender roles, in law, and in the environment; and have determined what we today eat, drink, and wear.

Showing how a change as small as the position of an atom can lead to enormous differences in the properties of a substance, the authors reveal the astonishing chemical connections among seemingly unrelated events. Napoleon’s Buttons offers a novel way to understand how our contemporary world works and how our civilization has been shaped over time.

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Aglow in the Dark: The Revolutionary Science of Biofluorescence

April 25, 2007

From the book jacket:

In the early 1960s, in a small shack on the Washington coast, a young, self-educated Japanese scientist performed an experiment to determine what made a certain jellyfish glow. The substance he discovered, green fluorescent protein, would revolutionize molecular biology, transforming our study of everything from the AIDS virus to the workings of the brain. Aglow in the Dark follows the path that took this glowing compound from its inauspicious arrival on the scientific scene to its present-day eminence as one of the most groundbreaking discoveries of the twentieth century.

The story unfolds in far-flung places, from the coral reefs of the Pacific Ocean, to the medical schools and marine stations of our leading universities, to a cold war-era research laboratory in Moscow. Traversing the globe and the decades, Aglow in the Dark conveys the human fascination with bioluminescence, or “living light,” its little-known application in war, forensic science, and molecular biology, and how it led to the finding of green fluorescent protein. The book reveals a hidden world where light is manipulated by animals and humans and put to remarkable uses–unlocking the secrets of the human brain, conquering dreaded diseases, and perhaps someday linking minds and machines. The authors deftly lead the reader through a complex story at the interface of biology and physics–and into the realm of wonder on the frontiers of scientific endeavor.

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Fred Hoyle’s Universe

April 24, 2007

Book Description
Fred Hoyle was a Yorkshire truant who became the voice of British astronomy. For fifty years, he spoke out for astronomy in the newspapers, on government committees, at scientific meetings, in popular books and on the radio. He devised a never-ending history of the universe, and worked out how the elements were made. He founded a prestigious institute for theoretical astronomy and built a giant telescope, and if it rained on his summer holiday, he sat in his caravan and wrote science fiction novels for his legions of fans around the world.

Fred Hoyle also claimed that diseases fall from the sky, that the big bang never happened, and that the Astronomer Royal should be abolished. When the outspoken Fred Hoyle spoke out for astronomy, some astronomers really wished he had kept his mouth shut.

This book tells the behind-the-scenes story of Hoyle’s widely acclaimed and deeply controversial role in the ideas, organisation and public face of astronomy in post-war Britain. It chronicles the triumphs, acrimony, jealousies, rewards and bitter feuds of a field in turmoil, and meets the astronomers, contemplating cosmic questions, keeping secrets, losing their tempers, winkling information out of distant stars and, over tea on the lawn, discussing the finer points of libel law.

Fred Hoyle’s Universe draws on previously confidential government documents, recently released personal correspondence and interviews with Hoyle’s friends, colleagues and critics, as well as with Hoyle himself, to bring you the man, the science, and the scandal behind the genial and genteel facade of the most exciting period in the history of astronomy.

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Invasive Species in the Pacific Northwest

April 24, 2007

From the book jacket:
The U.S. government defines invasive species as “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” What are these species? Which ones exist in the Pacific Northwest? How did they get there, and what effects are their invasions having on our environment?

Invasive Species in the Pacific Northwest examines invasive species of fish, plants, invertebrates, mammals, and birds, such as the American bullfrog, blackberries, domestic cats and pigs, European fruit flies, Japanese eelgrass, Mediterranean mussels, rats, and terrestrial mollusks. For each of 108 species, the book includes:

• Species description and current range
• Impacts on communities and native species
• Control methods and management
• Life histories and species overview
• History of invasiveness

Other features of the book include:

• 20 suggestions to help reduce the spread of invasive species
• Habitat preferences of Pacific Northwest invasive species
• A questionnaire to evaluate ecological impact and invasive potential

Invasive species have been recognized as an environmental issue since Charles Darwin’s voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle. In Invasive Species in the Pacific Northwest, editors P. D. Boersma, S. E. Reichard, and A. N. Van Buren explore the intentional and accidental introductions of invasive species. Whether these species were deliberately brought to the
Northwest for agricultural, horticultural, aquacultural, or hunting and fishing purposes, or accidentally introduced as stowaways and contaminants, knowledge about them is integral to the protection of our environment.

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