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Quantum Entanglement, Click Chemistry and Neanderthal Genome

Newsletter, Oct 7th 2022

Big week in Science News - Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine were announced this week. The thing that strikes me is the need for good science communication that these events highlight. Helpfully, each of the prize pages have a “popular science” link that helps communicate the specific advance that resulted in the prize. I look forward to more detailed breakdown in other mediums - blog posts, news articles and of course books in the coming years.

Medicine: How we are part Neanderthals, part Denisovans and uniquely human!

Chemistry: I love that simplicity and functionality was called out as the reason for this award given that science at this level is extremely complex and often seems pointless. Elegant, clever, novel and useful is how they described this work on click-chemistry - ability to use molecules like lego blocks to build useful things!

Physics: The Physics prize winners demonstrated that Quantum entanglement - measuring a property of one particle determines measurement for the entangled particle, no matter how far apart and without the need for a signal - is real and reality - an apple is red even when no one is looking - is well…not really there? Gives new meaning to the phrase - “If a tree falls in the forest and no one sees it, did it really fall?”, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, back at The Thinking Spot, Upcoming Events:

Sat Oct 15th 7p : World Premiere of the Math Musical by Matheatre. All Ages, assuming ability to sit still for an hour :) Do not miss this chance. These two literally travel the world and perform at science museums, schools and colleges all over!

Tuesday Oct 18th 11:30a : Virtual Event with Christina Soontornvat. We have multiple schools signed up to receive copies of her book as part of the #STEMReads program. I still have a few boxes available, if you know of a school with underserved population that could benefit from free copies of her book, please reach out.

Sat Oct 22nd 10:30am : Meet Author of Catstronauts and Waffle and Pancakes - graphic novel books for the 6-10 yr olds. It will be an interactive presentation on cartoons and drawing. You may even get to make one of your own!

Friday Oct 28th 7pm : Standup comedy - Science behind the Halloween Monsters with Matt Kessen.

As I plan future Author/Speaker events, I want to try something different. Instead of picking a date/time, I'd like to do a poll on what is the best day/time that works for those who are interested in the event. That allows me to guarantee an interested audience for the speaker and enables you to have a say in the events you are interested in. If you're game, please watch for a poll on an event with Jessica Nordell Author of the highly engaging and well-written book “The End Of Bias” on how we all have hidden biases around various things with ideas on recognizing and overcoming those. Bound to be a thought-provoking conversation.

Upcoming Bookclub meets:

Sunday Oct 9th 2p : Yoga for the mind - Adults Science - currently reading An Immense World

Sunday Oct 16th 4p : Smart Reads - Ages 7-10 - currently reading The Last Mapmaker.

Book Recommendations

In honor of the Nobel prizes, today's book picks are on related topics by writers known for their science communication chops.

In lieu of listing new releases in here, I've created a “New Releases" filter on the website that will get you ALL the new releases for the week. I will try to keep that list updated as new titles arrive each week.

Happy reading and see you at The Spot soon,


Physics, Chemistry, Biology Titles


By Matt Ridley

The genome's been mapped. But what does it mean?

Arguably the most significant scientific discovery of the new century, the mapping of the twenty-three pairs of chromosomes that make up the human genome raises almost as many questions as it answers. Questions that will profoundly impact the way we think about disease, about longevity, and about free will. Questions that will affect the rest of your life.

Genome offers extraordinary insight into the ramifications of this incredible breakthrough. By picking one newly discovered gene from each pair of chromosomes and telling its story, Matt Ridley recounts the history of our species and its ancestors from the dawn of life to the brink of future medicine. From Huntington's disease to cancer, from the applications of gene therapy to the horrors of eugenics, Matt Ridley probes the scientific, philosophical, and moral issues arising as a result of the mapping of the genome. It will help you understand what this scientific milestone means for you, for your children, and for humankind.

Matt Ridley is the award-winning, bestselling author of several books, including The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves; Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters; and The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature. His books have sold more than one million copies in thirty languages worldwide. He writes regularly for The Times (London) and The Wall Street Journal, and is a member of the House of Lords. He lives in England.

Gene Machine

By Venki Ramakrishnan

A Nobel Prize-winning biologist tells the riveting story of his race to discover the inner workings of biology's most important molecule

"Ramakrishnan's writing is so honest, lucid and engaging that I could not put this book down until I had read to the very end." -- Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies and The Gene

Everyone has heard of DNA. But by itself, DNA is just an inert blueprint for life. It is the ribosome -- an enormous molecular machine made up of a million atoms -- that makes DNA come to life, turning our genetic code into proteins and therefore into us. Gene Machine is an insider account of the race for the structure of the ribosome, a fundamental discovery that both advances our knowledge of all life and could lead to the development of better antibiotics against life-threatening diseases. But this is also a human story of Ramakrishnan's unlikely journey, from his first fumbling experiments in a biology lab to being the dark horse in a fierce competition with some of the world's best scientists. In the end, Gene Machine is a frank insider's account of the pursuit of high-stakes science.

Venki Ramakrishnan shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for uncovering the structure of the ribosome. He is a senior scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, and also the president of the Royal Society in London.

It's Elemental

By Kate Biberdorf

In this fresh and engaging guide to chemistry, Dr. Kate Biberdorf, aka “Kate the Chemist,” reveals the fascinating science we experience every day. Perfect for fans of armchair science books such as those by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Mary Roach.

In this fresh and engaging guide to chemistry, Dr. Kate Biberdorf, aka "Kate the Chemist," reveals the fascinating science we experience every day Have you ever wondered what makes dough rise? Or how your morning coffee gives you that energy boost? Or why your shampoo is making your hair look greasy? The answer is chemistry. From the moment we wake up until the time we go to sleep (and even while we sleep), chemistry is at work—and it doesn't take a PhD in science to understand it. Dr. Biberdorf has appeared on TV programs from the Today show to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, lighting the world on fire and changing the face of chemistry as we know it. In It's Elemental, she demystifies the fundamental principles of the science that may have eluded you in high school and shows how chemistry comes alive in everything we do. With wry wit and infectious enthusiasm, this entertaining guide will ignite your passion for science and change the way you experience the world.

Dr. Kate Biberdorf is a scientist and a chemistry professor at The University of Texas. She has a PhD in inorganic chemistry and has published her work in Catalysis, Science, and Technology. Her 6-book series for kids with Penguin breaks down the image of the stereotypical scientist, while reaching those who may be intimidated by science. She has appeared on The Today Show, Wendy Williams Show, and Late Night with Stephen Colbert. She lives in Austin TX with her family.

Beyond Weird

By Philip Ball

“Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.” Since Niels Bohr said this many years ago, quantum mechanics has only been getting more shocking. We now realize that it’s not really telling us that “weird” things happen out of sight, on the tiniest level, in the atomic world: rather, everything is quantum. But if quantum mechanics is correct, what seems obvious and right in our everyday world is built on foundations that don’t seem obvious or right at all—or even possible. An exhilarating tour of the contemporary quantum landscape, Beyond Weird is a book about what quantum physics really means—and what it doesn’t. Science writer Philip Ball offers an up-to-date, accessible account of the quest to come to grips with the most fundamental theory of physical reality, and to explain how its counterintuitive principles underpin the world we experience. Over the past decade it has become clear that quantum physics is less a theory about particles and waves, uncertainty and fuzziness, than a theory about information and knowledge—about what can be known, and how we can know it. Discoveries and experiments over the past few decades have called into question the meanings and limits of space and time, cause and effect, and, ultimately, of knowledge itself. The quantum world Ball shows us isn’t a different world. It is our world, and if anything deserves to be called “weird,” it’s us.

Philip Ball is a freelance writer and broadcaster, and was an editor at Nature for more than twenty years. He writes regularly in the scientific and popular media and has written many books on the interactions of the sciences, the arts, and wider culture, including H2O: A Biography of Water and The Music Instinct. His book Critical Mass won the 2005 Aventis Prize for Science Books. Ball is also a presenter of Science Stories, the BBC Radio 4 series on the history of science. He trained as a chemist at the University of Oxford and as a physicist at the University of Bristol. He lives in London.

How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog

By Chad Orzel

Learn the basics of quantum physics with this clever, fun, and lighthearted introduction to modern physics based on a series of conversations with Chad Orzel and his dog Emmy.

When physics professor Chad Orzel went to the pound to adopt a dog, he never imagined Emmy. She wasn’t just a friendly mutt who needed a home. Soon she was trying to use the strange ideas of quantum mechanics for the really important things in her life: chasing critters, getting treats, and going for walks. She peppered Chad with questions: Could she use quantum tunneling to get through the neighbor’s fence and chase bunnies? What about quantum teleportation to catch squirrels before they climb out of reach? Where are all the universes in which Chad drops steak on the floor?

With great humor and clarity, Chad Orzel explains to Emmy, and to human readers, just what quantum mechanics is and how it works—and why, although you can’t use it to catch squirrels or eat steak, it’s still bizarre, amazing, and important to every dog and human.

Chad Orzel was born and raised in central New York, and received a degree in physics from Williams College, and his Ph.D. in chemical physics from the University of Maryland. He is now a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He lives near campus with his wife Kate, their daughter, and, of course, Emmy, the Queen of Niskayuna.

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