(Reverse Chronological Order)
*All of my articles follow the same form and are of similar length (15-20 pages). These free articles will give you a good idea of how other articles look (below the links is a preview of each article).
Preview: As the blueprint of all that lives, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) may be said to be the key to understanding life itself. It is incredible to think, then, that the structure of DNA was only discovered some 60 years ago (thanks especially to the work of James Watson and Francis Crick). Since that time, many significant advances in genetics have been made—including the deciphering of the genomes of numerous species (including our own); and, even more impressively, the successful manipulation of the genetic code to introduce the features of one species to another (for example, having a goat produce spider’s silk out of its milk).
As impressive as these feats are, though, they are but the beginning of what promises to come from the study of genetics. Indeed, compared with other sciences, such as physics and chemistry, genetics is still in its infancy, and we can be assured that the most significant discoveries and applications are yet to come. Even now, geneticists are making substantial progress in uncovering the origin of life—meaning answering the question of just how life may have sprung out of lifeless chemistry—and are also making advancements in turning genetic manipulation into a standardized engineering science that is capable of churning out technological solutions in everything from food production to energy to medicine (a field that has been dubbed ‘synthetic biology’). It is these recent advances in genetics that are the main topic of Creation: How Science is Reinventing Life Itself by science writer Adam Rutherford. Read more…
Preview: Ever since the industrial revolution the developed world (and increasingly the developing world) has enjoyed remarkable economic growth. This economic growth has yielded wealth to a degree previously unimaginable. Indeed, many of us today enjoy conveniences, comforts and opportunities of a kind that have traditionally been unattainable by even the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people.
However, we may question just how sustainable all of this economic growth (and the resulting wealth) really is. For the economic growth has been accompanied by environmental depletion and degradation of a kind as unprecedented as the growth itself. And while some of the environmental crises that have come up along the way have been solved by new technologies, others yet remain, and are as daunting as any we have seen. Climate change in particular stands out as one of the greatest challenges we now face. What’s worse, many of the earth’s resources that we have used to generate the economic growth are dwindling, and face extinction. Indeed, the very resource that has powered the industrial era (and that has also caused many of our deepest environmental woes), fossil fuels, has now nearly peaked.
Looking to the past, we find that we would not be the first civilization to perish at the hands of a resource shortage brought on by overzealous extraction. Indeed, such an event has occurred on several occasions (including amongst the Mayan civilization, and that of the Easter Islanders).
So we find ourselves at a crossroads, unsure of whether our impressive economic growth can continue, and equally unsure of whether our lavish lifestyle lives but on borrowed time (and resources).
For writer Ramez Naam, though, we do have reason to be optimistic, and in his new book The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet Naam lays out the reasons for his optimism. Read more…
Preview: It is a deep part of human nature to want to understand our origins. Indeed, creation stories are ubiquitous among the world’s cultures. Somewhat fittingly, the vast majority of these creation stories have the human race emerging quickly, if not instantaneously—a revolutionary moment befitting a revolutionary species. When it comes to the story from science, on the other hand, while it may be no less spectacular, it is far less abrupt, for it has our species emerging much slower. Indeed, the latest findings indicate that we began branching away from the species to which we are most closely related—the chimpanzee—some 7 million years ago, and that only a series of small modifications spread out over this time has led us to our current state.
However long the process may have taken, though, in the end it was nevertheless revolutionary, for it has changed us from head to toe. Or rather, from toe to head, for the evidence indicates the process began with a modification in our big toe (which made upright walking easier) and ended with self-awareness (which ultimately made us interested in the story of our origin). While the rough edges of this story have been known for decades, recent fossil finds and new techniques in DNA analysis in the past 5 years have allowed the story to come into much clearer focus. Armed with these new discoveries, science writer Chip Walter takes on the story of human origins and evolution in his new book Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived. Read more…
Preview: Up until very recently, news out of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) regarding the progress of the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) had been slow in coming, and nary a major discovery had been announced. On July 4th, though, all of that changed. As on that day CERN announced the discovery of nothing less than the Higgs boson, the ‘God particle’.
The potential discovery of the Higgs boson had been one of the principal reasons why physicists were so excited about the LHC; and therefore, within the scientific community the announcement was cause for a major celebration indeed. For most of the general public, however, while the announcement was certainly intriguing, there were many basic questions yet to be answered: Just what was the Higgs boson, and why had it been labeled the God particle? Why were physicists expecting to find it, and what did the discovery really mean? Adequately answering these questions was more than what journalists were able to do in their compressed news segments and newspaper articles–and, besides this, it was a task that many journalists were not up to regardless.
Jim Baggott’s new book Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the ‘God Particle’ is meant to remedy this situation and provide the necessary context that the general public needs in order to understand the discovery of the Higgs boson and what it all means. Read more…
Preview: We spend up to a third of our lives sleeping, and yet, unless we are not getting enough of it, and/or are experiencing a sleeping disorder of some kind, most of us hardly ever give our sleep a second thought (other than to rue over how much precious time it takes up). Science too largely neglected sleep for the longest time, treating it mainly as a static condition during which the brain was not doing much of anything interesting. However, ever since rapid eye movement (REM) was discovered in the 1950′s the science of sleep has really taken off, and the discoveries that have come out of it go to show that this unconscious period is more interesting than we ever could have imagined. It is these discoveries that writer David K. Randall explores in his new book Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep. Read more…
Preview: When we are lucky enough to be stricken with a particularly imaginative thought or creative idea, it often feels as though it is coming from outside of us—as though we are but the vehicle for its transmission. As a reflection of this, in the past artistic creativity was thought of as a force that was sent down from above, a gift from the gods that the artist was required to wait patiently for; the artist being but a vessel through which the force could act. The moment of epiphany is so sudden, so seemingly without precedent or cause, that it may seem to defy logical explanation, and hence to be outside of the bounds of scientific study. However, according to journalist and author Jonah Lehrer, science is beginning to understand how creativity works, and how it can be fostered, and it is this understanding that he brings to the table in his new book Imagine: How Creativity Works. Read more…