Books by Steven Vogel

PRIME MOVER by Steven Vogel
Released: March 1, 2001

"The author's interests seemingly know no bounds, and he takes the reader along with him on a complex, absorbing journey of exploration notable for its unexpected twists and turns. (100 line drawings)"
Bioengineer Vogel (Cats' Paws and Catapaults, 1998, etc.) lucidly explains the nature of muscle and examines how it has shaped human history, culture, and technology. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1998

Has human engineering improved on nature? A biologist answers the question. Biomechanics is the discipline that explores nature's answers to what are essentially engineering problems. Vogel (Biology/Duke Univ.; Vital Circuits, 1992) doesn—t share the widespread assumption that human engineering is doomed to crank out clumsy imitations of what nature perfected eons before our race first chipped a stone into a cutting edge. For nature, sometimes to its disadvantage, must play by the rules of evolution, via natural selection; it is also restrained by geometrical and physical constants relating to growth and change, and it enjoys far less flexibility than do most human designers—nature cannot easily "go back to the drawing board" when an existing structure won't serve its purposes. Humanity is better at making things big, while nature excels in compactness: No bird can match a jetliner for size, but 10,000 viruses could fit along the length of our tiniest machine. Vogel explains basic principles of engineering science, giving examples both from the familiar human world and from biological entities. The problems discussed include the ways a structure (a skeleton, a bridge, a tower, a wing) can be designed to resist various stresses; ways of generating power (steam engines, wind, and water mills); and ways of building up large structures from small (bricks, cells). Certain overarching verities emerge from this investigation: our preference for the right angle, where nature uses curves; our heavy dependence on the wheel, which is almost completely unknown in nature; and our favoring of sliding surfaces (metal hinges) over bending ones (sinew, muscle). Vogel is generally convinced that our technology surpasses nature's evolutionary trial and error, but the reader is likely to emerge with greater respect for both. His well-written overview eyes the larger questions implicit in the subject. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 1991

This is not a book about heart disease, bypass surgery, or balloon angioplasty. It is not a book about how to change your habits and become fit and slim and heart-healthy (although the author confesses to having had a heart attack and having changed his lifestyle). It is a book about how your heart and circulatory system work—their normal physiology—told by a professor of zoology at Duke with a love for comparative anatomy and—well, plumbing. Yes, Vogel's great gift in this lucid exposition is to explain how the pumps (the right and left sides of the heart are essentially two pumps that work together) and the pipes (the arteries and veins) and the blood they supply to all the body's cells obey classic laws of fluid dynamics. So there is much here that will appeal to the home handyman and the physics student as well as to those naturally curious about the way things work. Forced convection, laminar flow, principles of continuity, and numerous eponymous laws (Bernoulli, Pascal, Laplace) are all invoked to explain the beauty of a system that is indeed vital to survival. Among the curiosa: Small animals have shorter lives and more rapid heartbeats than larger animals, but, generally speaking, the total number of heartbeats per lifetime in mammals is a constant: one billion. Also, did you know that flow rate is most rapid at the center of a pipe and is zero at the walls? That explains why fan blades get dirty: Air doesn't flow at the surface so they collect dust. All this and more await the intelligent science reader who would like time out from all those books on genes and biotechnology for some fine old-fashioned whole-organ physiology. (Fifty-two linecuts.) Read full book review >