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.
Many teachers of science use the automobile to exemplify the principles they wish to teach, whether it be the mechanics of acceleration or angular momentum, gearing, or the aerodynamics of drag.
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.
When I bought this book, I didn't realize how complementary to my Pick for Marchit would turn out to be. I thought that Poincare's "maps" referred to were his geometric depictions of deterministic chaotic systems, which he was first to discover, and the book was going to be largely about mathematics.
Joe Schwarcz's books are irresistible for "Hal's Picks" because they constitute just the kind of morsels that I look for - the connections between what we teach in chemistry courses and the world in which our students (and we) live. My only surprise in this book was that Prof. Schwarcz was able to come up with so many additional high-quality essays.
I was finally impelled to read "Uncle Tungsten", which had been recommended by innumerable chemist friends, because of the opportunity to meet the author at the ACS meeting in New York last month.
It's about time that somebody should write this book, and there is no better "somebody" for the job than Edward Tufte, author of thoughtful and beautiful books about the presentation of scientific data (see Hal's Picks for August, 1998 and