NANO

THE EMERGING SCIENCE OF NANOTECHNOLOGY: REMAKING THE WORLD--MOLECULE BY MOLECULE

Omni reporter Regis, who glanced at nanotechnology in Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition (1990), here turns to full-scale investigation of the subject. Of all the late-20th-century scientific frontiers, none seems quite so brave as nanotechnology, the endeavor to build machines the size of molecules that will be able to create any desired end product, from a filet mignon to a Porsche, using grass clippings or household trash as the raw material. Writing a book about it is not easy, since results are still scanty and its theory depends heavily on math and engineering data that few general readers would find congenial. Regis attempts to solve this problem by following the career of K. Eric Drexler, who came up with the idea of nanotech as an MIT student in the early '70s and has since become the leading figure of the new discipline. Drexler's road has not been easy. Chemists, physicists, and others who saw nanotech as poaching on their established fields were quick to label his early proposals ``pure science fiction'' and to point out theoretical and practical difficulties in bringing the technology into being. Drexler stuck to his guns and gradually saw many of his ideas accepted with the arrival of such tools as the scanning tunneling microscope, which is capable of manipulating individual atoms. Designing mechanical parts to be built one atom at a time has kept him busy, even though not a single working nanotech machine has been built to date. But the reader emerges with a feeling that they will be built and with some idea of how the world will change when they finally are. The author, clearly a nanotech booster, all but canonizes Drexler while portraying doubting scientists as dinosaurs. Despite the cheerleading, a clear and readable account of the new discipline's brief but exciting history. (16 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: April 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-316-73858-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1995

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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