Tag Archives: science

Who is Caroline Herschel?

I discovered Caroline Herschel a few years back when she was the inspiration for a Google Doodle. I became obsessed and wanted to know as much as I could about her.  She was most notably the sister of William Herschel, astronomer to King George, and also the man who discovered Uranus.  What most people don’t know is her own contribution to science.  Early in life she contracted typhus; her mother thought this was the end of her life as a woman. Thankfully her father and brother believed there was more for her.  After moving to England she assisted William and even became an astronomer in her own right.  Please do yourself a favor and take a moment to look at the Caroline Herschel Objects.

This got me thinking about other notable women in science. The further down I searched in this rabbit hole, the more I discovered.

Before Caroline (long before) there was Hypatia. Not much is actually known about the life of Hypatia, but of course there doesn’t mean there isn’t speculation!

If you are in the mood for a graphic novel try The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. A Steampunk graphic novel of Ava Lovelace in an alternative universe using computers to fight crime! Who would say no to that??! Or if you are looking for a more traditional historical novel, the library will soon be getting the forthcoming novel Enchantress of Numbers.

To return to Caroline Herschel, Stargazer’s Sister is a novel that tells her imagined life. From her early days, seeing her first solar eclipse, almost dying from typhus, being rescued by her brother William, and being brought to England where Caroline serves William as his caretaker, assistant, and research partner.  It is only when William announces his plans to marry that Caroline’s life falls apart.

Then I discovered Mary Anning through reading Remarkable Creatures. A fictional account of a Mary Anning, who had a knack for finding fossils. The story begins with Mary being struck by lightning as an infant, and the discovery that would revolutionize paleontology, and shake the religious figures of the time. Mary finds a friend and champion in Elizabeth Philpot. Or, you could read Curiosity: A Love Story by Winnipeg writer Joan Thomas.

I first learned of the women of NASA by watching a video about Margaret Hamilton. Who was Margaret Hamilton? Oh, just the woman who put astronauts on the Moon. Then I kept hearing of this book (and movie) Hidden Figures, the true story of the women who made space travel possible, and won the space race for the USA.

You can also try Rocket Girl, available on Overdrive.

 

 

Women in Science: 50 fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World is new to the library, and I have yet to receive it. I am (not so) patiently waiting for my hold!

Andrea

Advertisements

For Science!

disappearingspoon.jpgThere’s a misconception that some carry around after tossing their graduation caps and cleaning out their high school lockers that reading about science is boring. And while, yes, the subject matter in the wrong hands can be tedious and dull, some of the best stories come out of scientific serendipity, odd foot notes, and tangential study. One of my favourite genres to read is what some refer to as “cocktail-party science”. Likely, this is intended as a disparaging remark, conjuring up a vision of a 1960s affair where the ladies have long drapey silk scarves that they toss about saying, “Psshaw, science! I don’t even know the meaning of the word!” and the men all have oddly tight-fitting suits and giant cigars stuffed into the corners of their mouths as they guffaw themselves into a thick cloud of smoke.

So, here’s a short (hah!) list of some of my favourite nonfiction (science) authors and titles; the ones that will have you bothering those in your immediate vicinity with bursts of, “Did you know…?” and, “Listen to this…” until they sigh heavily, gather up their things, and find somewhere else to sit/work/live:

violiniststhumb.jpgSam Kean: Look, I’m not even going to pretend that this whole blog post wasn’t initially a thinly veiled love letter to Sam Kean’s writing. He tops out all my lists of accessible, fun to read nonfiction, exploding with facts that I have to read aloud to my cat because my husband has had, in his words, “enough, already”. Kean’s first book, The Disappearing Spoon, covers the curiosities of the periodic table (stay with me), his later books delve into genetics (The Violinist’s Thumb), neuroscience (The Case of the Dueling Neurosurgeons), and coming out this July a title about the most captivating topic of all: air! (Caesar’s Last Breath).

 

 

packingformars.jpgPacking for Mars by Mary Roach. Mary Roach is another science journalist who grabs onto a subject and shakes it until all the fun stuff falls out. She then slams that fun stuff between book covers and makes a million dollars*. If you’re not interested in the details, dangers, and possibilities of space travel, Roach has also covered the topics of digestion (Guts), the alimentary canal more generally (Gulp), sex (Bonk), human cadavers (Stiff), the afterlife (Spook), and, most recently, the history of warfare (Grunt).

 

workingstiff.jpgIf the word “cadavers” up there sparked your interest, you should also check out Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Dr. Judy Melinek. This title follows Dr. Melinek’s years working as a forensic pathologist (she started her training in New York City just two months prior to September 2001), as well as countless bizarre and fascinating cases of investigating and determining cause of death.

smokegetsinyoureyes.jpgCover image for Curtains : adventures of an undertaker-in-trainingIf you’ll permit me to stretch this macabre topic a little further: there’ve also been a few books written about those trying out employment at crematoriums and funeral homes. Try out The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, and Curtains: Adventures in Undertaking by Tom Jokinen which takes place at a local Winnipeg funeral home.

thingwithfeathers.jpg

Okay, let’s lighten things up a bit with a little ornithology: The Thing with Feathers: the surprising lives of birds and what they reveal about being human by Noah K. Strycker. If you’ve ever wanted to cross the threshold into the realm of bird journalism, you’ve found your entry point. It’s a thoroughly engaging, almost poetic look at the lives of our winged friends. But, caveat lector: this one comes with a high likelihood of bombarding those around you with factoids aplenty.

 

wickedplants.jpgWickedbugs.jpg drunkenbotanist.jpg

Want something lighter still? Amy Stewart covers the understated and quietly terrifying world of both plants (Wicked Plants) and bugs (you guessed it, Wicked Bugs). If you’re interested in never taking another hike without incessantly glancing around as though the whole world was trying to take you out, these are books you’ll want to devour. If you’d rather examine plants for their more useful qualities, try Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist for how to incorporate your yard/park/local plant conservatory (don’t try that last one, it probably won’t end well) into your next nightcap.

icontainmultitudes.jpg

If bugs aren’t small enough for you, I suggest you try I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong. Yong examines the world of microbes and their critical importance for all life on earth, both large and small. Thoroughly readable, this study of all the microscopic beings that take up residence in and on our bodies will have you rethinking the concept of ever being truly alone.

 

asapscience.jpgLastly (because I have to stop this rambling at some point), for those who may “psshaw” their way through a discussion of scientific merit, take a peek within the pages of ASAP Science: answers to the world’s weirdest questions, most persistent rumors & unexplained phenomena by M. Moffit and G. Brown. With a title like that, I’m sure it needs further explanation. Based on the successful YouTube channel (AsapSCIENCE), this book covers important topics like if your eyeballs could really fly out of your head when you sneeze and why we tend to hate photos of ourselves, all while using science! It’s also filled with cartoony illustrations to help break up all those darn words. For an ever-so-slightly more sophisticated mash-up of science and graphics, you simply must get your hands on The Infographic Guide to Science by Tom Cabot which is pretty much a never ending picture playground for nerds. It’s chock-full of brightly coloured and immaculately designed infographics starting with the Big Bang and concluding with Artificial Intelligence which, if Hollywood has taught me anything, is truly where we will all meet our end.

I guarantee** if you get a few of these titles under your belt you’ll have ample fodder for your next cocktail party. Would you pick up a science nonfiction title the next time you pop into the library? Have a favourite title I missed? What should I read next? These are all engaging questions.

For Science!

Laura

*This may be both a gross oversimplification and exaggeration

**absolutely not a real guarantee

Stand up for Science

I recall that it wasn’t long ago that Canadian scientists were being told not to speak up in public about their exciting research. Mmm… when did  evidence-based knowledge become all of a sudden subversive? Now the Trump Administration is doing its best to erode public confidence in science by gutting the Environmental Protection Agency budget, removing all mention of climate change from US government web sites, and cutting money from other science-based programs. By rolling back environmental regulations are they betting that society will be grateful for a few dollars saved while the earth becomes increasingly unlivable? This seems so myopic to me, but I digress. Reviewing recently published scientific books, I am amazed at the quality and quantity of what is coming to our shelves (and e-readers). Apparently scientific learning has not stopped, and the following titles are proof that at least some of us are hopelessly curious at deepening our knowledge of the world we live in, and us who live in it.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the inspirational popularizer of modern science, spoke about the importance of never giving up our desire to understand: “During our brief stay on planet Earth, we owe ourselves and our descendants the opportunity to explore — in part because it’s fun to do. But there’s a far nobler reason. The day our knowledge of the cosmos ceases to expand, we risk regressing to the childish view that the universe figuratively and literally revolves around us.” Well put.

Here are those promised titles:

physics.jpeg
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

“… a book about the joy of discovery. Carlo Rovelli brings a playful, entertaining, and mind-bending introduction to modern physics, offering surprising–and surprisingly easy to grasp–explanations of Einstein’s general relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, gravity, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe and the role humans play in this weird and wonderful world. He takes us to the frontiers of our knowledge: to the most minute reaches of the fabric of space, back to the origins of the cosmos, and into the workings of our minds. ‘Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world,’ Rovelli writes. ‘And it’s breathtaking.'”
(Publisher summary)

index.aspx Why Time Flies by Alan Burdick

“In this witty and meditative exploration, award-winning author and New Yorker staff writer Alan Burdick takes readers on a personal quest to understand how time gets in us and why we perceive it the way we do. In the company of scientists, he visits the most accurate clock in the world (which exists only on paper); discovers that ‘now’ actually happened a split-second ago; finds a twenty-fifth hour in the day; lives in the Arctic to lose all sense of time; and, for one fleeting moment in a neuroscientist’s lab, even makes time go backward. Why Time Flies is an instant classic, a vivid and intimate examination of the clocks that tick inside us all.” (Publisher summary)

index.aspx.jpeg
The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls

“In 1917, working alone in a remote Swiss asylum, psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach devised an experiment to probe the human mind: a set of ten carefully designed inkblots. For years he had grappled with the theories of Freud and Jung while also absorbing the aesthetic movements of the day, from Futurism to Dadaism. A visual artist himself, Rorschach had come to believe that who we are is less a matter of what we say, as Freud thought, than what we see.” (Publisher summary)

index.aspx.jpegHit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson

“In his groundbreaking investigation, Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson uncovers the hidden psychology of why we like what we like and reveals the economics of cultural markets that invisibly shape our lives. Shattering the sentimental myths of hit-making that dominate pop culture and business, Thompson shows quality is insufficient for success, nobody has ‘good taste,’ and some of the most popular products in history were one bad break away from utter failure. It may be a new world, but there are some enduring truths to what audiences and consumers want. People love a familiar surprise: a product that is bold, yet sneakily recognizable.” (Publisher summary)

index.aspx.jpeg
Irresistible: the rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked
by Adam Alter

“In this revolutionary book, Adam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at NYU, tracks the rise of behavioral addiction, and explains why so many of today’s products are irresistable. Though these miraculous products melt the miles that separate people across the globe, their extraordinary and sometimes damaging magnetism is no accident. The companies that design these products tweak them over time until they become almost impossible to resist.” (Publisher summary)

index.aspx.jpeg
Climate Change and the Health of Nations: Famines, Fevers, and the Fate of Populations by Anthony J. McMichael

“When we think of ‘climate change,’ we think of man-made global warming, caused by greenhouse gas emissions. But natural climate change has occurred throughout human history, and populations have had to adapt to the climate’s vicissitudes. Anthony J. McMichael, a renowned epidemiologist and a pioneer in the field of how human health relates to climate change, is the ideal person to tell this story.” (Publisher summary)

1473995631658.jpeg
Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost my Faith and Found It Again Through Science
by Mike McHargue

“In Finding God in the Waves, ‘Science Mike’ draws on his personal experience to tell the unlikely story of how science led him back to faith. Among other revelations, we learn what brain scans reveal about what happens when we pray; how fundamentalism affects the psyche; and how God is revealed not only in scripture but in the night sky, in subatomic particles, and in us.” (Publisher summary)

The Gene Machine: how genetic technologies are changing the way we have kids–and the kids we haveindex-1.aspx.jpeg by Bonnie Rochman

“A sharp-eyed exploration of the promise and peril of having children in an age of genetic tests and interventions. Is screening for disease in an embryo a humane form of family planning or a slippery slope toward eugenics? Should doctors tell you that your infant daughter is genetically predisposed to breast cancer? If tests revealed that your toddler has a genetic mutation whose significance isn’t clear, would you want to know?” (Publisher summary)

index-2.aspx.jpeg
Option B
by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

“Option B combines Sheryl’s personal insights with Adam’s eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity. Beginning with the gut-wrenching moment when she finds her husband collapsed on a gym floor, Sheryl opens up her heart–and her journal–to describe the acute grief and isolation she felt in the wake of his death. But Option B goes beyond Sheryl’s loss to explore how a broad range of people have overcome hardships including illness, job loss, sexual assault, natural disasters, and the violence of war. Their stories reveal the capacity of the human spirit to persevere… and to rediscover joy.” (Publisher summary)

Enjoy your reading and appreciation of science in 2017!

  • Lyle