Why is society organized the way it is? Is it possible to use some of the laws of the physical universe to understand why and how national economies, stock and commodity markets, companies and clubs organize the way they do? Can physics provides "laws" of human nature that are as useful and universal as those of mechanics?
If there is a subject more rife with bad science than that of human nutrition, I don't know what it would be. It seems that every year there is another fad diet, based on unproven theory and void of any semblance of scientific evidence.
Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel" is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in the last few years. It is an examination of the factors that have led societies to flourish and to gain ascendency over one another.
We teachers of science tend to assume that our students are largely rational - that they can be brought to understanding through a gradual accumulation of experiences that lead to conclusions about how the world works, and that nature can be led to disclose herself through a logical process.
What would you say are the greatest scientific ideas that mankind has discovered? Most of us chemists would say that the notion that matter consists of atoms would have to be one of them, and physical chemist Peter Atkins does not disappoint us on that score. He also treads ground familiar to us when he describes entropy and energy, and evolution and DNA.
A widely-held misconception is that people, in general, are getting taller. Another one is that Americans are the tallest people in the world. A handful of anthropologists led by John Komlos, a professor at the University of Munich, is using the average heights of people as a unique historical and contemporary index of health and nutrition.
I am overdue in recognizing Sidney Harris (not a relative) in "Hal's Picks". His cartoons are always very funny, and he surely must do more of them about subjects in science than anyone. You have surely seen his work in American Scientist, Playboy, or the New Yorker.
This is a sequel to Ehrlich's "Nine Crazy Ideas in Science", which was my pick for December, 2001. I don't think it is as good as the first one, although it does have some great strengths; his discussion of the climate change issue is about as good as any, and he also has an especially good discussion of the efficacy of placebos.
I am always looking for science/engineering projects that would be fun to do, and to encourage students to try. Neil Downie's first book, "Vacuum Bazookas, Electric Rainbow Jelly, and 27 Other Experiments for Saturday Science" was a Pick for March, 2002.