The Where, The Why and The How: A science writer and a graphic designer have a conversation

0the-where-the-why-and-the-how-75-artists-illustrate-wondrous-mysteries-of-scienceWhen I first learned that I had won a copy of The Where, The Why and The How in the book lottery at ScienceOnline 2013, I couldn’t believe my luck. I never win anything, at least not anything that I actually want. And I wanted a copy of this book.

The book is beautiful to hold. The linen binding is beautiful, reminiscent of bygone days when book binding was a practiced art. The paper is thick and smooth, a tactile pleasure as you turn each page; the pages themselves sound substantial as you flip through the book. Even the smell of the book is delightful—bringing to mind the stacks of old books filling a great library, even though what you hold in your hand is a new work. The science paisley inside covers of the book are a delight to look at, comprising various science icons intricately woven into an astounding tapestry.

I was expectant when I opened the book for the first chance for a serious read. Continue reading “The Where, The Why and The How: A science writer and a graphic designer have a conversation”

Poisoners and Scientists

If you eat enough silver, you will turn blue, but it probably won’t kill you.

In the 1920s, you could buy energy drinks and cosmetics containing radium. Because of its beneficial effects on tumors, it was believed to be healthy.

Arsenic was once known as “the inheritance powder”, because it was so commonly used to eliminate relatives who stayed alive too long.

In the 1930s the poison thallium was used in depilatory creams, because of its excellent ability to make hair fall out, but also because of its ability to lend a beautiful pale luster to the skin.

These are just a few of the fascinating facts and stories you can find in “The Poisoner’s Handbook”, by Deborah Blum Continue reading “Poisoners and Scientists”

The Latitude Of Mind That Galvanized A Longitude Of Ideas

Review Of Longitude: The True Story Of A Lone Genius Who Solved The Greatest Scientific Problem Of His Time, by Dava Sobel

ISBN: 0-8027-1312-2

During the early 1990s I lived and studied in Portsmouth, England. Portsmouth harbor was the launch pad for a trial in 1761 designed to test the seaworthiness of the H4 Harrison clock. Today HMS Victory stands in Portsmouth’s historic dockyard. Built between 1759 and 1765 the Victory is perhaps symbolic of a turning point in maritime travel.
John Harrison was an eighteenth century English clockmaker who embraced his profession with a passion.  His pioneering work with seafaring clocks eventually led to one of the most distinguished achievements of his time- the north-south demarcation of global longitude.  Longitude is award-winning author Dava Sobel’s account of the decades-long saga that brought about Harrisons’ momentous breakthrough.

Any history buff who dares look back over the turbulent ups and downs of maritime navigation will sooner or later hit on the longitude debacle that gripped much of Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries.  A string of devastating incidents across international waters prompted an urgent examination by political and scientific establishments of how best to accurately map out the oceans that formed such a crucial part of global commerce.  The egregious positional miscalculation by one Admiral Clowdisley Shovell, whose flotilla ran aground on the isles of Sicily off the coast of England in 1707 at a cost of 2000 lives, is perhaps the most widely documented nautical calamity of that era.  Forced to navigate by latitude alone, ships became ever-vulnerable to ambush as they sailed along only a handful of well-advertised trade routes.

And so began the most hotly-contested race for scientific notoriety ever launched. Continue reading “The Latitude Of Mind That Galvanized A Longitude Of Ideas”

A Banqueting Table For The Inquiring Mind

Review Of How To Dunk A Doughnut: The Science Of Everyday Life, By Len Fisher, Orion Books, London

ISBN: 0 75381 705 5

How To Dunk A Doughnut is the title of a popular science tome by British physicist Len Fisher who, in 2002, sought to spice up topics that would by in large fall outside the realms of a serious scientific mulling over. Despite drawing sharp criticism and jabs of mockery from some who have taken exception to his seeming trivialization of the scientific enterprise, Fisher maintains that the beauty of science lives as much in the “intimacy of every day, familiar detail” as it does in the unstoppable march of academic progress. And a quick perusal through the chapters of his book shows just how hard he has worked to prove his point.

Baffled by the idea that doughnut dunkers could possibly benefit from some yet un-disseminated scientific pearls of wisdom, I sat down doughnut in hand to put Fisher’s book through its paces. Continue reading “A Banqueting Table For The Inquiring Mind”

The Aladdin’s Cave Of Bio-inspired Materials And Devices

The Gecko's FootA Review of Peter Forbes’ The Gecko’s Foot- Bio-inspiration: Engineering New Materials from Nature’

Bioinspiration is a relatively new field of science that is trying to replicate the phenomena and designs of nature in ways that are of benefit to man. The manner in which a gecko’s foot allows it to climb glass, the way in which the wings of a butterfly sparkle in the sunlight and the complex methods of flight used by insects have all inspired technologists to emulate nature. More recently the cellular world with its molecular machines has provided a source of ideas for nanotechnological design. This ‘nanorealm’ of the cell has become the last frontier of natural exploration. Bioinspiration has likewise brought together disparate disciplines of science to tackle some of the major challenges of engineering and medicine – proteins that stick onto silica chips, for example, that may one day help in finding a cure for cancer. Continue reading “The Aladdin’s Cave Of Bio-inspired Materials And Devices”