Fuels Gold

The search for replacements for oil and natural gas is heating up, as the price of oil rises. No alternative is getting more attention than biofuels - which in the US means ethanol from corn or biodiesel from soybeans. The movement has terrific political momentum because it promises not only to increase the price of corn, but also to enrich those who have invested in distillation facilities.

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

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.

The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

What are the consequences of allowing irrational ideas into the science classroom? If you are willing to rely on faith instead of reason to come to conclusions about nature and our origins, then there is no reason to stop with Intelligent (sic) Design. Why not go all the way (and beyond that) and teach that the universe is the result of divine intervention by The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Department of Food Science - The Search for Sweet: The tricky technology of sugar substitutes

In 2005, the average American consumed about 140 pounds of sugar, which is about 50% more than the average German or Frenchman and nine times as much as the Chinese (see Hal's Pick for December, 2005). We also consumed about twenty four pounds of sugar substitutes per person, which translates to even more sweetness than the natural substance.

Fantastic Realities: 49 Mind Journeys and a Trip to Stockholm

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.

Cantor's Dilemma: A Novel

This book has been around since 1991, but I had not read it until a colleague suggested that I do. This is the first of least four novels by Stanford chemist Carl Djerassi, best known for his work on oral contraceptives.

Fritz Haber: Chemist, Nobel Laureate, German, Jew

Haber's name is found in the indices of a large fraction of all books about chemistry. Introductory students learn about the Haber process, by which we (still) synthesize ammonia from nitrogen in the air. Physical chemistry always includes the Haber cycle, a systematic approach to thermochemistry.

The Areas of My Expertise

The full title of this book is "The Areas of My Expertise: Which Include Matters Historical, Matters Literary, Matters Cryptozoological, Hobo Matters, Food, Drink & Cheese (a kind of food), Squirrels and Lobsters & Eels, Haircuts, Utopia, What Will Happen in the Future, and Most Other Subjects". It is full of little-known and bizarre facts, all of which were fabricated.

Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another

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?