Dust. It’s a blessing and a curse—and it gets the undivided, brightly humorous yet astute attention of Discovery Channel Online science writer Holmes.
It might be measured in microns—and microns are the kind of thing you count on the head of a pin—but dust has swept away whole civilizations, burying dinosaurs so fast that they never got off their nests and suffocating all those folks you see in Pompeii, caught forever with a cry on their lips. Dust is everywhere and unstoppable, Holmes notes: Every breath you take brings 150,000 to 1 million specks—depending on the grubbiness of your environment—into circulation in your lungs. Many will wash out on the tide of exhalation, but not a lot of those industrial dusts, or asbestos dust, or quartz dust—all of which stay to kill you. Then again, Holmes is quick to admit, don’t discount those dust bunnies skulking under the sofa that “contain everything from space diamonds to Saharan dust to the bones of dinosaurs and bits of modern tire rubber.” Then again still, dust fires the hydraulic cycle and gives birth to the stars and the heavenly bodies; every patch of the Earth is made of melted dust. The author looks at dust in a host of its limitless manifestations, and she profiles the scientists taking its measure and examining its consequences. She touches upon intriguing questions yet unanswered: Did dust start the Ice Age? Did it end it? Does dust help suppress asthma? Does space dust form noctilucent clouds? Chances are good that readers will never use an “air freshener” again, nor choose to live downwind of a pig farm, nor be real impressed with government control of carcinogenic quartz dust: “European countries severely restricted the use of quartz sand for sandblasting about fifty years ago. The U.S. government attempted to follow suit in 1974 but was overridden by the painting and sandblasting industries.”
Holmes is a science writer to watch. Who ever thought dust could so shine?