How likely is it that an asteroid or a comet of significant size will impact the earth, and what would be the consequences? It is now widely accepted that the dinosaurs were wiped out by such an event, and recent research suggests that previous estimates of the number of asteroid impacts may have been much too low.
Lists of "the best" movies, books, sports stars, American Idols, etc. etc. are often intriguing and controversial. Science has its own lists, be they Nobelists or most-cited publications. Just a little while ago (could it really have been November, 2005?) Philip Ball's list of "elegant" chemistry experiments was my choice of the month.
When asked by one of our students about the significance of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) and his revolutionary (pun intended) theory of the solar system, most of us would recite the folkloric tale. A brilliant astronomer, dissatisfied with the inaccuracies of Ptolemy, devised a completely new model for the solar system.
This little book is a gem. I have to admit that most of the students who have completed my first physical chemistry semester, which is all about thermodynamics, would benefit from reading this wonderful explanation of the central place that these topics play in every aspect of life.
What were personal qualities of the greatest scientist of the twentieth century that differentiated him from his contemporaries? I have read a lot of books about Albert Einstein, who was one of my childhood heroes (along with the Lone Ranger).
Neil Downie runs a Saturday science program for kids in Guildford, UK, that appears to be the most fun that anybody could have. This book is the third in a series that describes projects that he has invented for kids to build and investigate (often with the help of an adult).
I am old enough to remember the 1954 hearings in the matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, but I was too young to understand that there was more to this story about a supposed Communist in the nuclear weapons program than was being reported in the Los Angeles newspapers of the time.
Fantastic Realities is an adult book. Much of it consists of issues of the "Reference Frame" column that Professor Wilczek, 2004 Nobel laureate in physics, writes for his colleagues in Physics Today. In writing for that audience, Wilczek addresses fellow scientists who are expected to be familiar with "ordinary" physics, but not his specialty, quantum chromodynamics.
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?
Gurstelle also wrote "Building Bots: Designing and Building Warrior Robots", but I haven't read that one. "Catapult" is definitely in the spirit of "build it yourself", that I like to encourage here and also in "The Cost-Effective Teacher" feature in the print Journal.