Physics

Off the Planet: Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard the Space Station Mir

The word "Surviving" should probably be underlined in the title of this first-hand account by an American astro/cosmonaut of his experiences aboard Mir. There is precious little science in this book, but a great deal about living at the mercy of technology and Russian bureaucracy.

The Shaken-Soda Syndrome

Try this! Take two identical cans of soda (or some other beverage). Roll then down a slight incline to confirm that they roll at about the same speed. What do you think will happen if you shake up one can and roll them again? Make a prediction. Then try it. Have your students do it. Develop hypotheses and test them. This is a terrific experiment that anyone can do.

The Physics of Gridlock

How is automobile traffic like a gas? No, it's not because the collisions are inelastic. Researchers in chaos theory, especially Dirk Helbing and Boris Kerner, both theoretical physicists, have been working on traffic flow, using models similar to those of particle dynamics.

Exploring the Art and Science of Stopping Time: The Life and Work of Harold E. Edgerton

This is the first time that something not printed on paper has been chosen for Hal's Picks, and it probably will not happen often in the future. This particular subject is, however, better treated in digital format than in a book (although several good books on Edgerton and his work are also available).

Sport: Extreme Stargazing

For anyone who has tried unsuccessfully (like me) to find familiar stars in well-known constellations through a telescope, the competition that David Freedman describes sounds impossible. The "sport" is to see how many of the 110 celestial objects in the Messier catalog you can locate and identify during a single night of observation.

Medicine on Mars

I'm not a big fan of science fiction. I find "real" science to be generally more interesting; the fictionalized kind usually requires me to pretend that the universe is far different than what I believe to be the case. In fiction, travel between planets (or even solar systems) is accomplished quite easily, by suspension of the speed limit imposed by relativity.