Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules

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9780192803177: Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules

If atoms are letters, writes Philip Ball, then molecules are words. And through these words, scientists have uncovered many fascinating stories of the physical world. In Stories of the Invisible, Ball has compiled a cornucopia of tales spun by these intriguing, invisible words.
The book takes us on a tour of a world few of us knew existed. The author describes the remarkable molecular structure of spider's silk--a material that is pound for pound much stronger than steel--and shows how the Kevlar fibers in bulletproof vests were invented by imitating the alignment of molecules found in the spider's amazing thread. We also learn about the protein molecules that create movement, without which bacteria would be immobile, cells could not divide, there would be no reproduction and therefore no life.
Today we can invent molecules that can cure viral infections, store information, or help hold bridges together. But more importantly, Ball provides a fresh perspective on the future of molecular science, revealing how researchers are promising to reinvent chemistry as the central creative science of the 21st century.

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Review:

"Molecules," Philip Ball writes, "are the smallest units of meaning in chemistry," the words, if you will, made up of atomic letters. In this lively essay, full of such useful metaphors, Ball shares his longstanding fascination with the unseen world once again, explaining some of the issues that guide modern biochemistry.

Consider a sheep, Ball offers, a congeries of "millions of little bits of sheepness." That animal is a blend of molecules, tens of thousands of varieties of them, many of them found in the grass, sky, and water that make up the sheep's environment, many of them shared with other animals and humans. It has been the task of modern chemistry to dissect matter, to tease out underlying structures and commonalities--and, Ball adds, to learn how to make of its constituent elements things that do things, "such as cure viral infections or store information or hold bridges together." How chemistry has done so, making body armor of spider silk and modeling computer networks on "molecular logic," drives Ball's discursive, entertaining, and eminently practical survey.

A trustworthy explainer of scientific matters to lay readers, Ball writes with clarity and grace--and the more difficult the concept, the better he gets. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:


Philip Ball is a science writer and consultant editor for Nature. He is the author of Self-Made Tapestry, Designing the Molecular World, and H2O: A Biography of Water. He lives in London.

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Philip Ball
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