Science Matters

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-06-02
  • Publisher: Anchor

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Knowledge of the basic ideas and principles of science is fundamental to cultural literacy. But most books on science are often too obscure or too specialized to do the general reader much good. Science Mattersis a rare exception-a science book for the general reader that is informative enough to be a popular textbook for introductory courses in high school and college, and yet well-written enough to appeal to general readers uncomfortable with scientific jargon and complicated mathematics. And now, revised and expanded for the first time in nearly two decades, it is up-to-date, so that readers can enjoy Hazen and Trefil's refreshingly accessible explanations of the most recent developments in science, from particle physics to biotechnology.

Author Biography

ROBERT M. HAZEN is the author of more than 350 articles and 20 books on earth science, materials science, origins of life, history and music. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he received the Mineralogical Society of America Award, the Ipatief Prize, the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award, and other awards for his research and writing. Hazen is a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science and is Robinson Professor of Earth Sciences at George Mason University. His recent books include Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins and The Sciences: An Integrated Approach (with James Trefil).

JAMES TREFIL, Robinson Professor of Physics at George Mason University, is the author of over 40 books and 100 articles in professional journals. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the World Economic Forum. He is the recipient of the Andrew Gemant Award (American institute of Physics), the Westinghouse and Subaru Awards (American Association for the Advancement of Science) and the 2008 Science Writing Award (American Physical Society). His most recent books are Why Science and The Sciences: An Integrated Approach (with Robert Hazen).?

Table of Contents

Introduction Scientific Literacy: What It Is, Why It's Important, and Why We Don't Have Itp. xi
Knowing The universe is regular and predictablep. 3
Energy Energy is conserved and always goes from more useful to less useful formsp. 26
Electricity and Magnetism Electricity and magnetism are two aspects of the same forcep. 44
The Atom All matter is made of atomsp. 67
The World of the Quantum Everything comes in discrete units and you can't measure anything without changing itp. 80
Chemical Bonding Atoms are bound by electron gluep. 94
Atomic Architecture The way a material behaves depends on how its atoms are arrangedp. 115
Nuclear Physics Nuclear energy comes from the conversion of massp. 137
The Fundamental Structure of Matter All matter is really made of quarks and leptonsp. 153
Astronomy Stars experience a cycle of birth and deathp. 165
The Cosmos The universe was born at a specific time in the past, and it has been expanding ever sincep. 182
Relativity Every observer sees the same laws of naturep. 194
The Restless Earth Earth's surface is constantly changing, and no feature on Earth is permanentp. 215
Earth Cycles Earth operates in cyclesp. 233
The Ladder of Life All living things are made from cells, the chemical factories of lifep. 251
The Code of Life All life is based on the same genetic codep. 273
Biotechnology All life is based on the same chemistry and genetic codep. 292
Evolution All forms of life evolved by natural selectionp. 304
Ecosystems All life is connectedp. 326
Epilogue The Role of Sciencep. 344
Indexp. 347
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.




YOUR LIFE IS FILLED with routine—you set your alarm clock at night, take a shower in the morning, brush your teeth after breakfast, pay your bills on time, and fasten your seat belt. With each of these actions and a hundred others every day you acknowledge the power of predictability. If you don’t set the alarm you’ll probably be late for work or school. If you don’t take a shower you’ll probably smell. If you don’t fasten your seat belt and then get into a freeway accident you may die.

We all seek order to deal with life’s uncertainties. We look for patterns to help us cope. Scientists do the same thing. They constantly examine nature, guided by one overarching principle:

The universe is regular and predictable.

The universe is not random. The sun comes up every morning, the stars sweep across the sky at night. The universe moves in regular, predictable ways. Human beings can grasp the regularities of the universe and can even uncover the basic, simple laws that produce them. We call this activity “science.”


Science is one way of knowing about the world. The unspoken assumption behind the scientific endeavor is that general laws, discoverable by the human mind, exist and govern everything in the physical world. In its most advanced form, science is written in the language of mathematics, and therefore is not always easily accessible to the general public. But, like any other language, the language of science can be translated into simple English. When this is done, the beauty and simplicity of the great scientific laws can be shared by everyone.

Science is not the only way, nor always the best way, to gain an understanding of the world in which we find ourselves. Religion and philosophy help us come to grips with the meaning of life without the need for experimentation or mathematics, while art, music, and literature provide us with a kind of aesthetic, nonquantitative knowledge. You don’t need calculus to tell you whether a symphony or a poem has meaning for you. Science complements these other ways of knowing, providing us with insights about a different aspect of the universe.

The Regularity of Nature

Our ancestors perceived the universe in ways that sometimes seem very strange to us. For all but the past few hundred years of human existence the universe was viewed by most people as a place without deep order or rules, governed by the whims of the gods or even by chance. By noting the daily movements of objects in the sky, however, our ancestors got their first hints that some kind of order and regularity might exist in nature. The position of the sun, the phases of the moon, and the dominant constellations of stars cycled over the years, decades, and centuries with unerring regularity. Whatever governs its motion, the fact is that the sun does come up every morning.

Most historians of science point to the need for a reliable calendar to regulate agricultural activity as the impetus for learning about what we now call astronomy. Early astronomy provided information about when to plant crops and gave humans their first formal method of recording the passage of time. Stonehenge, the 4,000-year-old ring of stones in southern Britain, is perhaps the best-known monument to the discovery of regularity and predictability in the world we inhabit. The great markers of Stonehenge point to the spots on the horizon where the sun rises at the solstices and equinoxes—the dates we still use to mark the beginnings of the seasons. The stones may even have been used to predict eclipses. The existence of Stonehenge, built by people without writing, bears silent testimony both to the regularity of nature and to the ability of the human mind to see behind immediate appearances and discover deeper meanings in events.

The Inv

Excerpted from Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy by Robert M. Hazen, James Trefil
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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