Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Skin: a Natural History

June 7, 2007

From the book jacket:

We expose it, cover it, paint it, tattoo it, scar it, and pierce it. Our intimate connection with the world, skin protects us while advertising our health, our identity, and our individuality. This dazzling synthetic overview, written with a poetic touch and taking many intriguing side excursions, is a complete guidebook to the pliable covering that makes us who we are. Skin: A Natural History celebrates the evolution of three unique attributes of human skin: its naked sweatiness, its distinctive sepia rainbow of colors, and its remarkable range of decorations. Jablonski begins with a look at skin’s structure and functions and then tours its three-hundred-million-year evolution, delving into such topics as the importance of touch and how the skin reflects and affects emotions. She examines the modern human obsession with age-related changes in skin, especially wrinkles. She then turns to skin as a canvas for self-expression, exploring our use of cosmetics, body paint, tattooing, and scarification. Skin: A Natural History places the rich cultural canvas of skin within its broader biological context for the first time, and the result is a tremendously engaging look at ourselves.

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Why Size Matters: From Bacteria to Blue Whales

June 7, 2007

From the book jacket:

John Tyler Bonner, one of our most distinguished and creative biologists, here offers a completely new perspective on the role of size in biology. In his hallmark friendly style, he explores the universal impact of being the right size. By examining stories ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Gulliver’s Travels, he shows that humans have always been fascinated by things big and small. Why then does size always reside on the fringes of science and never on the center stage? Why do biologists and others ponder size only when studying something else–running speed, life span, or metabolism?

Why Size Matters, a pioneering book of big ideas in a compact size, gives size its due by presenting a profound yet lucid overview of what we know about its role in the living world. Bonner argues that size really does matter–that it is the supreme and universal determinant of what any organism can be and do. For example, because tiny creatures are subject primarily to forces of cohesion and larger beasts to gravity, a fly can easily walk up a wall, something we humans cannot even begin to imagine doing.

Bonner introduces us to size through the giants and dwarfs of human, animal, and plant history and then explores questions including the physics of size as it affects biology, the evolution of size over geological time, and the role of size in the function and longevity of living things.

As this elegantly written book shows, size affects life in its every aspect. It is a universal frame from which nothing escapes.

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Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures

June 6, 2007

Book Description

Mostly tiny, infinitely delicate, and short-lived, insects and their relatives–arthropods–nonetheless outnumber all their fellow creatures on earth. How lowly arthropods achieved this unlikely preeminence is a story deftly and colorfully told in this follow-up to the award-winning For Love of Insects. Part handbook, part field guide, part photo album, Secret Weapons chronicles the diverse and often astonishing defensive strategies that have allowed insects, spiders, scorpions, and other many-legged creatures not just to survive, but to thrive.

In sixty-nine chapters, each brilliantly illustrated with photographs culled from Thomas Eisner’s legendary collection, we meet a largely North American cast of arthropods–as well as a few of their kin from Australia, Europe, and Asia–and observe at firsthand the nature and extent of the defenses that lie at the root of their evolutionary success. Here are the cockroaches and termites, the carpenter ants and honeybees, and all the miniature creatures in between, deploying their sprays and venom, froth and feces, camouflage and sticky coatings. And along with a marvelous bug’s-eye view of how these secret weapons actually work, here is a close-up look at the science behind them, from taxonomy to chemical formulas, as well as an appendix with instructions for studying chemical defenses at home. Whether dipped into here and there or read cover to cover, Secret Weapons will prove invaluable to hands-on researchers and amateur naturalists alike, and will captivate any reader for whom nature is a source of wonder.

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Rene’ Dubos: Friend of the Good Earth: Microbiologist, Medical Scientist, Environmentalist

June 6, 2007

 From the book jacket:

Rene Dubos, Friend of the Good Earth: Microbiologist, Medical Scientist, Environmentalist is a biography of one of the most influential scientists in recent history. Documenting his life from his birth in 1901 or his death in 1982, this book examines the intriguing career of Dubos and his impact on science, medicine, society and the environment.

Dubos’ science is presented in the context of 20th Century biology, medicine and ecology. The ecological approach that led to his discovery of the first antibiotic was the foundation for his career as a medical scientist and environmentalist. The issues he raised, including antibiotic resistance, the interrelatedness of environmental health to human health, and the potential danger of relying too heavily on vaccines and drugs to eradicate disease, continue to be provocative and increasingly relevant today. A prolific author and a passionate humanist, Dubos served as the conscience of the environmental movement and founded the popular motto “Think globally, act locally.”

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Laughing Gas, Viagra, and Lipitor: The Human Stories Behind the Drugs We Use

May 25, 2007

Book Description

The stories behind drug discovery are fascinating, full of human and scientific interest. This is a book on the history of drug discovery that highlights the intellectual splendor of discoverers as well as the human frailty associated them. History is replete with examples of breakthrough medicines that have saved millions of lives. To offer just a few examples: ether as an anesthetic by Morton; penicillin as an antibiotic by Fleming; and insulin as an anti-diabetic by Banting discovered the use of insulin for treating diabetes.

In this book on the history of drug discovery, author Jie Jack Li highlights both the intellectual splendor of the discoverers as well as their human frailty, and he shows us that the discoverers of these medicines are, beyond a doubt, great benefactors to mankind. For instance, it is probable that without penicillin, 75% of us would not be alive today.

Li is a medicinal chemist and is intimately involved with drug discovery. Through extensive research and interviews with the inventors of drugs, including those of Viagra and Lipitor, he has assembled an astounding number of facts and anecdotes as well as much useful information about important drugs we know and use in our lives today. Figures, diagrams, and illustrations highlight the text throughout.

Both specialists and laymen alike will find Laughing, Gas, Viagra, and Lipitor information and entertaining. Students in chemistry, pharmacy, and medicine, workers in healthcare, and high school science teachers will find this book most useful.

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Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist’s View of Genetically Modified Foods

May 7, 2007

From the book’s preface:

Our civilization rests on food: on our ability to make the earth say beans, to store those beans and fruits and seeds, and to share them. Our creatures might feed their young, but as adults each one fends for itself, spending much of the day doing it. By contrast we humans have learned to farm. Over the last few centuries, advances in science have allowed fewer and fewer farmers to feed more and more people, freeing the rest of us to make and sell each other houses, hats, and video games, to be scientists and writers and politicians, painters, teachers, doctors, spiritual leaders, and talk-show hosts. In some parts of the world, only one person in 200 grows plants or raises animals for food. The other 199 of us buy what we eat . . . .

What genetic engineering actually is and how it differs from earlier techniques of plant breeding is not understood by many outside the laboratory and breeding plot. Nor do most people understand the effects on the science of plant breeding of new interpretations of patent protection. People have heard that scientists themselves oppose genetically modified foods–and few do, although they are rarely those who know this new science well. Most people lack the time–and often the knowledge–to critically examine the scientific research cited in support of the opposing views of the technology. By writing this book we seek to answer the questions that most people–whether for or against the idea of genetically modified foods–often forget to ask.

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Sustainable communities and the challenge of environmental justice

May 1, 2007

Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice

From the book jacket:

Environmental justice and sustainability have evolved over the past two decades to provide new and exciting directions for public policy and planning, but the relationship between their movements has traditionally been uneasy. What might, at first glance, seem like an obvious case for coalition is fraught with ideological and other concerns. How has it come to this, and how can we move forward?

Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice argues that there exists an area of theoretical and practical compatibility between these movements, a critical nexus for a broad social movement to create just and sustainable communities for all people. Agyeman shows how these two related movements can potentially work together by providing practical examples of organizations which employ the types of strategies he advocates. This book is vital to the efforts of community organizers, academics, policymakers, and everyone interested in more livable communities.

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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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