Unlocking the Past: How Archaeologists Are Rewriting Human History with Ancient DNA [EPUB]
06 September 2016, 13:17
2016 | EPUB | 4.53MB
In Unlocking the Past, Martin Jones, a leading expert at the forefront of bioarchaeology—the discipline that gave Michael Crichton the premise for Jurassic Park—explains how this pioneering science is rewriting human history and unlocking stories of the past that could never have been told before. For the first time, the building blocks of ancient life—DNA, proteins, and fats that have long been trapped in fossils and earth and rock—have become widely accessible to science. Working at the cutting edge of genetic and other molecular technologies, researchers have been probing the remains of these ancient biomolecules in human skeletons, sediments and fossilized plants, dinosaur bones, and insects trapped in amber. Their amazing discoveries have influenced the archaeological debate at almost every level and continue to reshape our understanding of the past.
Devising a molecular clock from a certain area of DNA, scientists were able to determine that all humans descend from one common female ancestor, dubbed "Mitochondrial Eve," who lived around 150,000 years ago. From molecules recovered from grinding stones and potsherds, they reconstructed ancient diets and posited when such practices as dairying and boiling water for cooking began. They have reconstituted the beer left in the burial chamber of pharaohs and know what the Iceman, the 5,000-year-old hunter found in the Alps in the early nineties, ate before his last journey. Conveying both the excitement of innovative research and the sometimes bruising rough-and-tumble of scientific debate, Jones has written a work of profound importance. Unlocking the Past is science at its most engaging.
Goldilocks and the Water Bears: The Search for Life in the Universe [EPUB]
05 September 2016, 08:19
2016 | EPUB | 3.12MB
Today we know of only a single planet that hosts life: the Earth. But across a Universe of at least 100 billion possibly habitable worlds, surely our planet isn't the only one that is just right for life? As Goldilocks was searching for the perfect bowl of porridge, astrobiologists are searching for conditions throughout the Universe that are just right for life as we currently know it to exist.
With the Earth as our guide, the search has begun for similar worlds sitting at the perfect distance from their Sun – within the aptly named 'Goldilocks Zone' – that would enable them to keep water as a liquid on their surface and therefore perhaps support a thriving biosphere.
What might life look like on other worlds? It is possible to make best-guesses using facts rooted in biology, physics and chemistry, and by studying 'extremophiles' on Earth, organisms such as the near-indestructible water bears that can survive in the harshest conditions that Earth, and even space, can offer.
Goldilocks and the Water Bears is a tale of the origins and evolution of life, and the quest to find it on other planets, on moons, in other galaxies, and throughout the Universe.
The Quantum Moment: How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty [EPUB]
23 July 2016, 07:56
2014 | EPUB | 3.62MB
The fascinating story of how quantum mechanics went mainstream.
The discovery of the quantum—the idea, born in the early 1900s in a remote corner of physics, that energy comes in finite packets instead of infinitely divisible quantities—planted a rich set of metaphors in the popular imagination.
Quantum imagery and language now bombard us like an endless stream of photons. Phrases such as multiverses, quantum leaps, alternate universes, the uncertainty principle, and Schrödinger's cat get reinvented continually in cartoons and movies, coffee mugs and T-shirts, and fiction and philosophy, reinterpreted by each new generation of artists and writers.
Is a "quantum leap" big or small? How uncertain is the uncertainty principle? Is this barrage of quantum vocabulary pretentious and wacky, or a fundamental shift in the way we think?
All the above, say Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber in this pathbreaking book. The authors—one a philosopher, the other a physicist—draw on their training and six years of co-teaching to dramatize the quantum’s rocky path from scientific theory to public understanding. Together, they and their students explored missteps and mistranslations, jokes and gibberish, of public discussion about the quantum. Their book explores the quantum’s manifestations in everything from art and sculpture to the prose of John Updike and David Foster Wallace. The authors reveal the quantum’s implications for knowledge, metaphor, intellectual exchange, and the contemporary world. Understanding and appreciating quantum language and imagery, and recognizing its misuse, is part of what it means to be an educated person today.
The result is a celebration of language at the interface of physics and culture, perfect for anyone drawn to the infinite variety of ideas.