I Contain Multitudes

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
by Ed Yong

QR 171 .A1 Y66 2016

“For most of human existence, microbes were hidden, visible only through the illnesses they caused. When they finally surfaced in biological studies, they were cast as rogues. Only recently have they immigrated from the neglected fringes of biology to its center. Even today, many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated, but those that live with us – the microbiome – are invaluable parts of our lives.

I Contain Multitudes lets us peer into that world for the first time, allowing us to see how ubiquitous and vital microbes are: they sculpt our organs, defend us from disease, break down our food, educate our immune systems, guide our behavior, bombard our genomes with their genes, and grant us incredible abilities. While much of the prevailing discussion around the microbiome has focused on its implications for human health, Yong broadens this focus to the entire animal kingdom, giving us a grander view of life.

With humor and erudition, Ed Yong prompts us to look at ourselves and our fellow animals in a new light: less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are. When we look at the animal kingdom through a microbial lens, even the most familiar parts of our lives take on a striking new air. We learn the secret, invisible, and wondrous biology behind the corals that construct mighty reefs, the glowing squid that can help us understand the bacteria in our own guts, the beetles that bring down forests, the disease-fighting mosquitoes engineered in Australia, and the ingredients in breast milk that evolved to nourish a baby’s first microbes. We see how humans are disrupting these partnerships and how scientists are now manipulating them to our advantage. We see, as William Blake wrote, the world in a grain of sand.

I Contain Multitudes is the story of these extraordinary partnerships, between the familiar creatures of our world and those we never knew existed. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.”
– publisher description

Strange Glow

Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation by Timothy J. Jorgensen

QC 475 .J67 2016

“More than ever before, radiation is a part of our modern daily lives. We own radiation-emitting phones, regularly get diagnostic x-rays, such as mammograms, and submit to full-body security scans at airports. We worry and debate about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the safety of nuclear power plants. But how much do we really know about radiation? And what are its actual dangers? An accessible blend of narrative history and science, Strange Glow describes mankind’s extraordinary, thorny relationship with radiation, including the hard-won lessons of how radiation helps and harms our health. Timothy Jorgensen explores how our knowledge of and experiences with radiation in the last century can lead us to smarter personal decisions about radiation exposures today.

Jorgensen introduces key figures in the story of radiation – from Wilhelm Roentgen, the discoverer of x-rays, and pioneering radioactivity researchers Marie and Pierre Curie, to Thomas Edison and the victims of the recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. Tracing the most important events in the evolution of radiation, Jorgensen explains exactly what radiation is, how it produces certain health consequences, and how we can protect ourselves from harm. He also considers a range of practical scenarios such as the risks of radon in our basements, radiation levels in the fish we eat, questions about cell-phone use, and radiation’s link to cancer. Jorgensen empowers us to make informed choices while offering a clearer understanding of broader societal issues.

Investigating radiation’s benefits and risks, Strange Glow takes a remarkable look at how, for better or worse, radiation has transformed our society.”
– publisher description

Rise of the Rocket Girls

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt

TL 862 .J48 H65 2016

“During World War II, when the newly minted Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate jet velocities and plot missile trajectories, they recruited an elite group of young women – known as human computers – who, with only pencil, paper, and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design and helped bring about America’s first ballistic missiles.

But they were never interested in developing weapons – their hearts lay in the dream of space exploration. So when JPL became part of a new agency called NASA, the computers worked on the first probes to the moon, Venus, Mars, and beyond. Later, as digital computers largely replaced human ones, JPL was unique in training and retaining its brilliant pool of women. They became the first computer programmers and engineers, and through their efforts, we launched the ships that showed us the contours of our solar system.

For the first time, Rise of the Rocket Girls tells the stories of these women who charted a course not only for the future of space exploration but also for the prospects of female scientists. Based on extensive research and interviews with the living members of the team, Rise of the Rocket Girls offers a unique perspective on the role of women in science, illuminating both where we’ve been and the far reaches of space to which we’re heading.”
– publisher escription

Faith vs. Fact

Faith vs. Fact

Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible by Jerry A. Coyne

BL 240.3 .C69 2015

“The last five hundred years have seen monumental conflicts between science and faith, from Galileo’s sentence to lifetime house arrest in 1632 over his claim of a Sun-centered solar system to the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial,” the titanic clash between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan over whether a high-school teacher could tell his students that humans had evolved (the jury said no). Schoolteachers in 2015 are still battling to teach evolution; long-conquered childhood diseases are reappearing because of religious objections to inoculation; despite legal victories, there are still vicious battles over abortion, assisted suicide, and homosexuality; and scientists fearing for their federal funding (controlled by climate-change-denying congressional committees) cling to “accommodationism” as a refuge – can’t we just tolerate each other’s beliefs and get along that way?

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne could not be clearer: his answer is “Absolutely not.” Science and religion are incompatible because they have different methods for getting knowledge about reality, have different ways of assessing the reliability of that knowledge, and, in the end, arrive at conflicting conclusions about the universe. “Knowledge” acquired by religion is at odds not only with scientific knowledge but with that professed by other religions. In the end, religion’s methods, unlike those of science, are useless for understanding reality.

Using the clear-eyed, rational methodology of a world-class scientist, Coyne dismantles every claim to explaining the physical world, and the life in it, that religion proposes, from Genesis on. While science relies on observation, reason, testing, and experiment, methods that have led to tremendous progress, religion’s methods are based on faith – belief in things for which there is no evidence, insufficient evidence, or even counter-evidence – as well as on dogma, authority, and “confirmation bias,” the tendency to see as true what you want to be true. Coyne irrefutably demonstrates the grave harm – to individuals and to our planet – in mistaking faith for fact in making the most important decisions about the world we live in.”
– publisher description

Whatever Happened to the Metric System?

Whatever Happened to the Metric System

Whatever Happened to the Metric System?: How America Kept Its Feet by John Bemelmans Marciano

QC 92 .U54 M37 2014

“The American standard system of measurement is a unique and odd thing to behold with its esoteric, inconsistent standards: twelve inches in a foot, three feet in a yard, sixteen ounces in a pound, one hundred pennies in a dollar. For something as elemental as counting and estimating the world around us, it seems like a confusing tool to use. So how did we end up with it?

Most of the rest of the world is on the metric system, and for a time in the 1970s America appeared ready to make the switch. Yet it never happened, and the reasons for that get to the root of who we think we are, just as the measurements are woven into the ways we think. John Marciano chronicles the origins of measurement systems, the kaleidoscopic array of standards throughout Europe and the thirteen American colonies, the combination of intellect and circumstance that resulted in the metric system’s creation in France in the wake of the French Revolution, and America’s stubborn adherence to the hybrid United States Customary System ever since. As much as it is a tale of quarters and tenths, it is also a human drama, replete with great inventors, visionary presidents, obsessive activists, and science-loving technocrats.

Anyone who reads this inquisitive, engaging story will never read Robert Frost’s line “miles to go before I sleep” or eat a foot-long sub again without wondering, Whatever happened to the metric system?”
– publisher description

Final Frontier

Final Frontier

Final Frontier: The Pioneering Science and Technology of Exploring the Universe by Brian Clegg

TL 793 .C629 2014

Star Trek was right – there is only one final frontier, and that is space. . .

Human beings are natural explorers, and nowhere is this frontier spirit stronger than in the United States of America – it almost defines our character. But the Earth is running out of frontiers fast. In Final Frontier we discover the massive challenges that face explorers, both human and robotic, to uncover the current and future technologies that could take us out into the galaxy and on a voyage to discovery where no one has gone before. . . though one day someone will. In 2003, General Wesley Clark challenged the nation to produce the technology that would enable new pioneers to explore the galaxy. That challenge is tough – one of the greatest we’ve ever faced. But taking on the final frontier does not have to be a fantasy.

In a time of recession, escapism is always popular – and what greater escape from the everyday can there be than the dream of leaving Earth’s bounds and exploring the universe? With a rich popular-culture heritage in science-fiction movies, books, and TV shows, this is a subject that entertains and informs in equal measure.”
– publisher description

Mystic Chemist

Mystic Chemist

Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSD
by Dieter Hagenbach and Lucius Werthmüller

BF 209 .L9 H3413 2013

“Only a few discoveries of the 20th century have had such crucial and meaningful influences on science, society and culture as LSD. This mysterious and extremely potent substance causes profound changes of consciousness in doses of millionths of a gram.

Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann first experienced its remarkable effects during a self-experiment with Lysergic Acid Diethylamide in 1943 at Sandox Laboratory in Basel. It changed his life deeply, as it also has the lives of millions of people all around the world. His bicycle ride during his first LSD trip became legendary.

Authors Hagenbach and Werthmüller, close friends of Hofmann, take us on a journey through the 20th century from his mystical childhood experiences with nature, to his chemistry studies with Nobel Prize winner Paul Karrer in Zurich, through his discoveries of both LSD and psilocybin at Sandoz in Basel, to his adventurous expeditions, to his many years of retirement devoted to philosophy of nature and a rich social life. The authors reveal the eventful history of LSD, which became the subject of numerous clinical studies opening the way for innovative forms of therapy. It fueled the youth movement of the sixties, influenced developments in computer technology and science, and helped spawn a new science of consciousness. Albert Hofmann was voted “greatest living genius” in 2007 by the Daily Telegraph. He lived an active life until the age of 102.”
– publisher description