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".
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.
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.
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.
When nearly a dozen scientists, all in some way associated with research on biotechnology, die within a year of the 9/11 attacks, can it be coincidence? Yes, says Lisa Belkin, author of this excellent article on one of the constants of pseudoscience, the attribution of "cause" to random events.
An ideal companion to "The Universe in a Nutshell" is this article by Neil Ashby, a Professor of Physics at University of Colorado - Boulder. Hand- held GPS devices have become standard equipment for boaters, hikers, and technology junkies. It is now taken for granted that one's position on the earth can be obtained within a few seconds, accurately, and free.
Barry Commoner argues that the central "dogma" of genetic engineering, that DNA alone controls protein synthesis in a one-to-one correspondence between genes and proteins, is highly questionable.
Most of the chemistry professors and teachers with whom I am acquainted are fairly pleased with the national trend toward putting more computers in school, college, and university classrooms.
Did ancient Parthians know how to make electricity with batteries? An object discovered in 1936, during excavation of Khuyut Rabbou'a, near modern Baghdad, has raised speculation that they might indeed have.
In the social sciences, 1995 may turn out to be (the figures aren't available yet) the year in which as many women earned Ph.D. degrees as men did. But in the physical sciences, the ratio is still about four to one.