TAMING THE ATOM

THE EMERGENCE OF THE VISIBLE MICROWORLD

Take seriously that subtitle—for what this fascinating book is all about are devices and procedures that allow the imaging of even a single atom suspended in a tiny doughnut-shaped trap. Von Baeyer (Physics/College of William and Mary), who charmed lay and professional readers alike with his Rainbows, Snowflakes and Quarks (1984), takes his main title from the fox in Saint ExupÇry's The Little Prince, who described ``taming: as establishing bonds—a process that happens slowly and with patience.'' So it has been, von Baeyer contends, with the history of atomic theory from Democritus to Einstein down to the latter-day stars of quantum mechanics. He reminds us that no less a giant of physics than Ernst Mach stoutly denied the existence of atoms at the end of the 19th century. Now, while there are no doubters, there remain the paradoxes of quantum mechanics—such as wave- particle duality: In the ``Copenhagen'' interpretation, an electron is potentially either a wave or a particle and the act of measurement determines which. Einstein rejected that notion, arguing instead that there is an objective reality beyond acts of measurement. Von Baeyer sorts out the history and experiments behind the paradoxes to bring us up to date with new theories to resolve them—including the use of ingenious devices such as a ``quantum eraser'' sensitive to a photon extracted from a single atom. Other clever atom-taming devices in the author's marvelous catalog include an apparatus that can prevent the spontaneous emission of an atom; ``tuned'' lasers that can detect impurities in a sample down to a single atom; and the ``magic wrist''—a machine that ``feels'' the ``surface roughness of the atomic landscape.'' And all this told in that combination of depth of knowledge and eyewitness narrative that marks the best science writing. (Eight pages of color illustrations—not seen.)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-679-40039-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1992

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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