Magic Universe: The Oxford Guide to Modern Science


As a prolific author, BBC commentator, and magazine editor, Nigel Calder has spent a lifetime spotting and explaining the big discoveries in all branches of science. In Magic Universe, he draws on his vast experience to offer readers a lively, far-reaching look at modern science in all its glory, shedding light on the latest ideas in physics, biology, chemistry, medicine, astronomy, and many other fields.
What is truly magical about Magic Universe is Calder's incredible ...
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Oxford, England 2003 Hard cover New. No dust jacket. Still in shrink wrap. Glued binding. Paper over boards. 756 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade.

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As a prolific author, BBC commentator, and magazine editor, Nigel Calder has spent a lifetime spotting and explaining the big discoveries in all branches of science. In Magic Universe, he draws on his vast experience to offer readers a lively, far-reaching look at modern science in all its glory, shedding light on the latest ideas in physics, biology, chemistry, medicine, astronomy, and many other fields.
What is truly magical about Magic Universe is Calder's incredible breadth. Migrating birds, light sensors in the human eye, black holes, antimatter, buckyballs and nanotubes--with exhilarating sweep, Calder can range from the strings of a piano to the superstrings of modern physics, from Pythagoras's theory of musical pitch to the most recent ideas about atoms and gravity and a ten-dimensional universe--all in one essay. The great virtue of this wide-ranging style--besides its liveliness and versatility--is that it allows Calder to illuminate how the modern sciences intermingle and cross-fertilize one another. Indeed, whether discussing astronauts or handedness or dinosaurs, Calder manages to tease out hidden connections between disparate fields of study. What is most wondrous about the "magic universe" is that one can begin with stellar dust and finish with life itself.
Drawing on interviews with more than 200 researchers, from graduate students to Nobel prize-winners, Magic Universe takes us on a high-spirited tour through the halls of science, one that will enthrall everyone interested in science, whether a young researcher in a high-tech lab or an amateur buff sitting in the comfort of an armchair.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The ideal compendium for non-scientists of any age."--Sunday Times

"A marvelous can be enjoyed like a high-quality magazine."--Mark Ridley, Times Literary Supplement

"He is really exceptional in his energy, his range of comprehension, and his quality as a writer.... Nigel Calder remains supreme in his range and depth...he goes to immense trouble to get things right, and also takes pains with the clarity and elegance of his writing."--Sir Martin Rees, FRS, Astronomer Royal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198507925
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/16/2003
  • Pages: 768
  • Product dimensions: 9.56 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 2.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Nigel Calder is the author of dozens of books on science, including Einstein's Universe, Restless Earth, Nuclear Nightmares, Spaceship Earth, and The Manic Sun. The former editor of New Scientist, he has conceived and scripted many special science documentaries for BBC Television. He lives in the United Kingdom.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Welcome to the spider's web 1
Alcohol: Genetic revelations of when yeast invented booze 4
Altruism and aggression: Looking for the origins of those human alternatives 6
Antimatter: Does the coat that Sakharov made really explain its absence? 15
Arabidopsis: The modest weed that gave plant scientists the big picture 24
Astronautics: Will interstellar pioneers be overtaken by their grandchildren? 29
Bernal's ladder: Pointers 35
Big Bang: The inflationary Universe's sleight-of-hand 37
Biodiversity: The mathematics of co-existence 46
Biological clocks: Molecular machinery that governs life's routines 55
Biosphere from space: 'I want to do the whole world' 61
Bits and qubits: The digital world and its looming quantum shadow 68
Black holes: The awesome engines of quasars and active galaxies 72
Brain images: What do all the vivid movies really mean? 80
Brain rhythms: The mathematics of the beat we think to 86
Brain wiring: How do all those nerve connections know where to go? 91
Buckyballs and nanotubes: Doing very much more with very much less 95
Cambrian explosion: Easy come and easy go, among the early animals 103
Carbon cycle: Exactly how does it interact with the global climate? 107
Cell cycle: How and when one living entity becomes two 114
Cell death: How life makes suicide part of the evolutionary deal 118
Cell traffic: Zip codes, stepping-stones and the recognition of life's complexity 122
Cereals: Genetic boosts for the most cosseted inhabitants of the planet 126
Chaos: The butterfly versus the ladybird, and the Mercury Effect 133
Climate change: Shall we freeze or fry? 141
Cloning: Why doing without sex carries a health warning 149
Comets and asteroids: Snowy dirtballs and their rocky cousins 155
Continents and supercontinents: Collage-making since the world began 163
Cosmic rays: Where do the punchiest particles come from? 169
Cryosphere: Ice sheets, sea-ice and mountain glaciers tell a confusing tale 174
Dark energy: Revealing the power of an accelerating Universe 181
Dark matter: A wind of wimps or the machinations of machos? 187
Dinosaurs: Why small was beautiful in the end 193
Discovery: Why the top experts are usually wrong 197
Disorderly materials: The wonders of untidy solids and tidy liquids 205
DNA fingerprinting: From parentage cases to facial diversity 208
Earth: Why is it so very different from all the other planets of the Sun? 211
Earthquakes: Why they may never be accurately predicted, or prevented 219
Earthshine: How bright clouds reveal climate change, and perhaps drive it 226
Earth system: Pointers 232
Eco-evolution: New perspectives on variability and survival 233
Electroweak force: How Europe recovered its fading glory in particle physics 238
Elements: A legacy from stellar puffs, collapsing giants and exploding dwarfs 244
El Nino: When a warm sea wobbles the global weather 253
Embryos: 'Think of the control genes operating a chemical computer' 257
Energy and mass: The cosmic currency of Einstein's most famous equation 263
Evolution: Why Darwin's natural selection was never the whole story 268
Extinctions: Were they nearly all due to bolts from the blue? 277
Extraterrestrial life: Could we be all alone in the Milky Way? 283
Extremophiles: Creatures that thrive in unexpected places 291
Flood basalts: Can impacting comets set continents in motion? 297
Flowering: Colourful variations on a theme of genetic pathways 302
Forces: Pointers 306
Galaxies: Looking for Juno's milk in the infant Universe 308
Gamma-ray bursts: New black holes being fashioned every day 312
Genes: Words of wisdom from our ancestors, in four colours 317
Genomes in general: The whole history of life in a chemical code 325
Global enzymes: Why they now fascinate geologists, chemists and biologists 333
Grammar: Does it stand between computers and the dominion of the world? 341
Gravitational waves: Shaking the Universe with weighty news 347
Gravity: Did Uncle Albert really get it right? 350
Handedness: Mysteries of left versus right that won't go away 360
Higgs bosons: The multi-billion-dollar quest for the mass-maker 367
High-speed travel: The common sense of special relativity 373
Hopeful monsters: How they herald a revolution in evolution 380
Hotspots: Are there really chimneys deep inside the Earth? 388
Human ecology: How to progress beyond eco-colonialism 393
Human genome: The industrialization of fundamental biology 401
Human origins: Why most of those exhumations are only of great-aunts 409
Ice-rafting events: Glacial surges in sudden changes of climate 417
Immortality: Should we be satisfied with 100 years? 423
Immune system: What's me, what's you, and what's a nasty bug? 428
Impacts: Physical consequences of collisions with comets and asteroids 438
Languages: Why women often set the new fashions in speaking 445
Life's origins: Will the answer to the riddle come from outer space? 451
Mammals: Tracing our milk-making forebears in a world of drifting continents 459
Matter: Pointers 465
Memory: Tracking down the chemistry of retention and forgetfulness 466
Microwave background: Looking for the pattern on the cosmic wallpaper 473
Minerals in space: From stellar dust to crystals to stones 479
Molecular partners: Letting natural processes do the chemist's work 483
Molecules evolving: How the Japanese heretics were vindicated 487
Molecules in space: Exotic chemistry among the stars 492
Neutrino oscillations: When ghostly particles play hide-and-seek 498
Neutron stars: Ticking clocks in the sky, and their silent shadows 503
Nuclear weapons: The desperately close-run thing 509
Ocean currents: A central-heating system for the world 515
Origins: Pointers 521
Particle families: Completing the Standard Model of matter and its behaviour 522
Photosynthesis: How does your garden grow? 529
Plant diseases: An evolutionary arms race or just trench warfare? 536
Plants: Pointers 541
Plasma crystals: How a newly found force empowers dust 542
Plate motions: What rocky machinery refurbishes the Earth's surface? 548
Predators: Come back Brer Wolf, all is forgiven 556
Prehistoric genes: Sorting the travelling salesmen from the settlers 559
Primate behaviour: Clues to the origins of human culture 567
Prions: From cannibals and mad cows to new modes of heredity and evolution 572
Protein-making: From an impressionistic dance to a real molecular movie 578
Protein shapes: Look forward to seeing them shimmy 582
Proteomes: The molecular corps de ballet of living things 588
Quantum tangles: From puzzling to spooky to useful 595
Quark soup: Recreating a world without protons 604
Relativity: Pointers 607
Smallpox: The dairymaid's blessing and the general's curse 608
Solar wind: How it creates the heliosphere in which we live 612
Space weather: Why it is now more troublesome than in the old days 620
Sparticles: A wished-for superworld of exotic matter and forces 629
Speech: A gene that makes us more eloquent than chimpanzees 633
Starbursts: Galactic traffic accidents and stellar baby booms 640
Stars: Hearing them sing and sizing them up 643
Stem cells: Tissue engineering, natural and medical 648
Sun's interior: How sound waves made our mother star transparent 652
Superatoms, superfluids and superconductors: The march of the boson armies 660
Superstrings: Retuning the cosmic imagination 666
Time machines: The biggest issue in contemporary physics? 672
Transgenic crops: For better or worse, a planetary experiment has begun 675
Tree of life: Promiscuous bacteria and the course of evolution 681
Universe: 'It must have known we were coming' 690
Volcanic explosions: Where will the next big one be? 699
Sources of quotes 706
Name index 734
Subject index 743
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