Joe Schwarcz is Director of McGill University's Office for Chemistry and Society. He hosts a weekly radio call-in radio show in Montreal and also writes a column about chemistry in everyday life for the Washington Post. The essays in this book are collected largely from his radio show, and they are exactly in the spirit of "Hal's Picks".
Until I read "Measuring America", I was only vaguely aware of the importance of surveying to the economic and political history of the United States.
In 1792, the French Academy of Sciences appointed two respected scientists to survey a north-south meridian from Dunkirk to Barcelona, for the purpose of determining the size (and shape) of the earth. Why is this important? Because it would establish an international basis for the meter, foundation of the metric system.
Many people have difficulty understanding the motivation of scientists for precedence and the recognition it brings. While there are monetary incentives for some of the protagonists in "Acid Tongues", it is more often pride and the acceptance of one's ideas that drove the rivalries of Newton vs. Leibniz, Edison vs. Tesla, Crick and Watson vs. Pauling vs. Franklin and Wilkins.
Even those of us whose whose biochemistry is a little shaky are likely to know that there are twenty amino acids that form the building blocks of proteins in life on earth. Now even that simple factoid is no longer absolutely true. A group of scientists headed by Peter G. Schultz of the Scripps Research Institute have created a new form of E.
When I was a kid, my brother and I used to negotiate Saturday Los Angeles traffic on our bicycles in order to get to the Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles, where the great collection of dinosaur bones from the La Brea Tar pits were exhibited.
We all know that, with the deciphering of the human genome as well as those of other animals, and of plants, that the future will bring a new level of understanding and control of our own heredity. But what can the present level of genetic testing provide? In this story, writer David Duncan has as much determined about his future as you can learn with current technology.
In 1900, David Hilbert gave an address to the International Congress of Mathematicians that outlined the twenty three most important unsolved problems of mathematics, as he saw them. In "The Honors Class", Benjamin Yandell describes the problems and the very remarkable people who worked on them.
I usually avoid writing in this space about materials that one might use directly in the classroom, since I am trying encourage teachers to expand their scope. However, this two -volume set recently published by the Royal Society of Chemistry is enough to make me change the rules.