Chemical Education Resource Shelf

Hal's 1995 Picks of the Month


This file last modified 2/15/07

Selection for December, 1995:

"Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder", by Lawrence Weschler; Pantheon (ISBN 0-679-43998-6)

In Culver City, California, David Wilson operates The Museum of Jurassic Technology. There, the visitor learns that the breath of a duck will cure children of fungal infections of the mouth, and that bedwetting is curable by "eating a mouse on toast, fur and all". All of the exhibits are properly researched and referenced, but many of the sources lead the inquisitive visitor to slightly warped sources. In fact, Mr. Wilson's museum is as much a work of art and imagination as it is of science. Its purpose is to reawaken our sense of wonder. Mr. Weschler leads the reader through a fascinating history of museums of natural science and the "Cabinets of Wonder" that preceded them. A precursor can be found in the September, 1994 Harper's Magazine, and there is a WWW page for the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

Selections for November, 1995:

"Naturalist" by Edward O. Wilson; Island Press/Shearwater Books, ISBN 1-55963-288-7

Edward O. Wilson is the world's most recognized expert on ants. In "Naturalist", his autobiography, he traces his personal and professional history from childhood in Alabama, where an accident destroyed one of his eyes, to Professorship at Harvard, and international recognition. Wilson also became an extremely controversial figure with the publication of "Sociobiology" in the 1970's. There, he attempted to apply some of his research findings on social insects to other species, including mankind. This foray into the debate over whether genetic or cultural influences are most important ("nature-vs-nurture") engaged political as well as scientific passions. It was fascinating to read how this scientist dealt with explosive controversy over the ramifications of his work. I was very sad to learn that the two life scientists whose words I have most enjoyed, both in the same Harvard department, have been bitter adversaries for many years. The two are Professor Wilson and Professor Stephen Jay Gould. "Naturalist" is available in paper from a book club, which is where I got my copy.

"The Spoor of Spooks Revisited", by W. Stevenson Bacon

This essay was published by The Research Corporation along with their annual report for 1994 (it sounds like this is an "old" report, but copies were distributed only recently). Dr. Bacon argues that science educators should be less tolerant of pseudoscientific nonsense such as astrology, reported encounters with aliens, the more outrageous varieties of alternative medicine, creationism, and "psi" phenomena, among others. Drawing his inspiration from Bergen Evans' articles, "The Spoor of Spooks and Other Nonsense", and "The Natural History of Nonsense", the author argues that, by not effectively countering these antiscientific attitudes in our classrooms, we're not completing our mission as educators.

Selection for October, 1995:

"Rethinking Science as a Career", by Sheila Tobias, Daryl E. Chubin, and Kevin Aylesworth; Research Corporation (ISBN 0-9633504-3-9)

This book is published and distributed as part of the Research Corporation series "of occasional papers on neglected problems in science education". Should we be encouraging our students to prepare for careers in science? If so, what prospects for employment await them, and how ought we best to prepare them? This book has implications for teachers at all levels, but speaks most strongly to the science faculties of our colleges and universities and their associated graduate schools. The marketplace for science and engineering has changed dramatically and drastically in this decade. What are our schools doing differently, in order to adjust to the new realities?

Selection for September, 1995:

"The Water is Wide", by Pat Conroy; Bantam Books paperback (ISBN 0-553-26893-7)

This book was first published in 1972, and is still in print, in paper. The author also wrote "The Great Santini", "The Lords of Discipline", and "The Prince of Tides". His current best-seller is "Beach Music". "The River is Wide" is a fictionalized version of Conroy's own experiences as a teacher of isolated and neglected rural black children in South Carolina. It is an inspirational novel for anyone involved in teaching or considering a career in teaching. It was also made into a movie, "Conrack", which starred Jon Voigt. I haven't seen the film, but I enjoyed the book very much. The rural students that Conroy describes bear some resemblance to the disadvantaged youth of our own time. Teachers who "want to make a difference" ought to consider the opportunities in the communities that most need them.

Selections for August, 1995:

"School Girls" by Peggy Orenstein; Anchor Books (paper), 0-385-42576-7

The subtitle for journalist Peggy Orenstein's book is, "Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap". It was produced in cooperation with the American Association of University Women in an attempt to put human faces on the results of an AAUW research project that provided evidence that girls tend to lose self-confidence at about junior high school age. Ms. Orenstein reports her interviews over about eighteen months, with girls from a fairly typical suburban school and from an inner-city school. Both were in California. You won't find data in this book, but the interviews are disquieting. There may be a reason here that fewer women enter science, mathematics, and engineering careers.

"The Most Dangerous Wave" by David W. Murray in The Sciences , July/August 1995, pp. 38-43.

What do you know about Tsunamis ("tidal waves")? Did you know that most people who have lost their lives to these waves have done so because they were lured to newly-exposed "dry" land as the sea receded in front of the Tsunami? I didn't either, until I read this fascinating article in the journal of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Selection for July, 1995:

"Observation of Bose-Einstein Condensation in a Dilute Atomic Vapor", by M. H. Anderson, J. R. Ensher, M. R. Matthews, C. E. Wieman, E. A. Cornell Science 269, p. 198 (July 14, 1995)

Other articles describing this result appear on pages 152 and 182 of the same issue. The Bose-Einstein Condensate was also named "Molecule of the Year" by Science in its December 22, 1995 issue. This result, in my opinion, provides teachers of physical chemistry an extraordinarily nice opportunity to illustrate the "particle in a box" exercise that we all use to teach quantum chemistry, with a new experimental example. It also provides a new opportunity to emphasize the significance of Bose-Einstein versus Fermi-Dirac statistics. I used it as the basis for a cumulative examination for our physical chemistry graduate students, and will also be incorporating it into my physical chemistry courses.

Hal's Current Selections

Hal's Selections in 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996

Indices to Hal's Picks  


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