by Candice on May 3rd, 2013
I’ve often thought that, if there was an area of knowledge that I could suddenly gain understanding and excel in, it would be physics and astronomy.
This goes back a bit, to the days when I was fascinated with the planets. When I was 8 or so, I received a book about the beings that inhabit different planets. As it turns out, this book was fiction. I didn’t realize that, and was amazed and delighted that the book gave me numerical call signs to actually make contact with the planets–yes, really!! I spent many hours in my room, on the floor facing the window, with my walkie-talkie in hand, patiently tapping out (in Morse code, of course) these call signs. Hours. To no avail. No matter, though, I moved on…I had a period of fascination with Mars, and ordered as many books from the Weekly Reader as I could get my hands on. Then movies about space and aliens and time travel and the future. Books about string theory (started, rarely finished) and the cosmos. Pictures from the Hubble.
As it currently stands, I have a really hard time grasping some (most) of the basic principles, but I am still fascinated by it all. Is the universe expanding? What happened before the Big Bang? What is at the bottom/on the other side of a black hole (a thing we know exists not because we see it, but by the disappearance of everything else around it, that is crazy!)? Do all points in time really exist at the same time, all the time, and if so, can I somehow go back to the 23-year-old me and say ‘hey, maybe don’t take in 8 cats’? And most importantly, the question that comes to my mind whenever I read something about some distant star, why are we just now seeing the light from something that happened millions of years ago, and does the thing even exist anymore?? I don’t understand Einstein’s theories, I can’t really visualize multiple dimensions, and light years are mind-boggling. I just can’t.
Imagine my pleasure upon discovering The Universe: an illustrated history of astronomy. Pictures! Concise explanations! A fold-out timeline! 100 brief and interesting tidbits about astronomy explained for someone like me. If you’re like me, and you desperately want to ponder the mysterious stars and expanse of space and matter, but just can’t quite manage it on your own, you’ll want this book. Or, if you’re a little more advanced than I, but want something beautiful and very interesting to read, you just might want it as well.
by Melody on March 6th, 2013
I am a cataloger here at ICPL. As such, I get to see many of the books we have before they ever get put on a shelf. I’ve found myself oooh’ing and ahhh’ing at some of these books—often spending a wee bit too much time fawning over the book before I finish working on its catalog record. This week, here are a few that caught my attention and were hard to put down.
by Andrea on August 8th, 2012
If you have been following the adventures of the latest Mars rover, Curiosity, pick up the story a little earlier with The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity by Elizabeth Rusch. Beginning with the determined plans of Steven Squyres (rejected by NASA eight times before being taken on) to send a “geologist” to Mars, Rusch tracks the development of the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.
From their launch in 2003, their many accomplishments as well as the bumps along the way are documented through thrilling photographs and in-depth interviews with Squyres and others on the 4000-strong team that created and managed the rovers. While not the first expeditions to Mars, they were the most successful and certainly the longest, exceeding their expected life span of three months by, well, read and find out how these intrepid little rovers fared. You will find yourself cheering along for them and their human support crew as they encounter and overcome obstacle after obstacle. The book ends with information about the Curiosity rover with clear explanations about what it hopes to accomplish that Spirit and Opportunity could not as well as the many similarities between the rovers.
Opportunity at the Endeavour Rim
The interdisciplinary nature of space exploration means there are a multitude of talents involved. As in Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh the extent of the teamwork and involvement from so many different engineers and scientists from so many places amazes me. “It was so complicated that not a single one of us fully understood what was going on,” said Squyer. I highly recommend The Mighty Mars Rovers to anyone interested in space exploration, teamwork or involved in robotics competitions. It continues the tradition of exposing children to the amazing possibilities of science of earlier titles in the Scientists in the Field series.
Spirit Finds Silica Rich Soil
NASA happily shares many of the images and findings from its missions. Check out the Spirit and Opportunity Mission page as well as Curiosity’s Mission page including video of its landing and some of the hundreds of pictures it has already sent back to earth. For quirkier updates, follow @MarsCuriosity on Twitter. As well as photos and video from Mars, you can enjoy its exchanges with scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Photographs from nasa.gov.
by Andrea on July 26th, 2012
It’s hard to beat puffins for cuteness. Cute + informative = a winning combination.
Once again, Ted and Betsy Lewin’s travels bring a fascinating glimpse into a way of life I never knew existed. In Puffling Patrol, the Lewins chronicle eight-year-old twins, Dani and Erna, as they rescue pufflings on the Icelandic island of Heimay. While only 4300 people live on Heimay, their lights are enough to confuse many of the young puffins making their way to sea each August. Children who join the Puffling Patrol stay up late to rescue puffins who land in the town from the dangers of dogs, cats, and vehicles (in the best of times, puffins’ stout bodies make takeoff challenging, the flat streets and weak young wings make takeoff in town impossible). What an awesome experience for the children! The illustrations capture both the joy and seriousness with which they approach their task. See the quarterback throw when the puffins are released and an enthusiastic rescue on the National Geographic Video (3 minutes).
The back matter on Atlantic puffins enhances the already fascinating book. Unfortunately, it was necessary to include information on the threats the puffins face. A shortage of sand eels is threatening the puffin population on Heimay mean that while 1600 pufflings were rescued in 2007, only ten were in 2010.
Puffling Patrol would pair well with The One and Only Ivan, a book that has been inspiring many children to want to do something for animals in need.
Review previously published elsewhere.
by Anne on July 19th, 2012
I don’t have to tell you it’s hot…and dry. Honestly, all I can think about is the water temperature off of the National Seashore in Cape Cod (in the sixties). But being landlocked in Iowa doesn’t mean you can’t turn your thoughts to the ocean in less torturous ways by checking out these new books.
Beyond the blue horizon: how the earliest mariners unlocked the secrets of the oceans by Brian Fagan
From the ancient Polynesians to the Vikings, Fagan goes beyond Columbus and Magellan to find the earliest explorers of the oceans and how their jump from the shore changed civilization.
Soundings: the story of the remarkable woman who mapped the ocean floor by Hali Felt.
Soundings explores how Marie Tharp drafted the first comprehensive map of the ocean floor by interpreting sonar pings that measured ocean depths in the 1950′s. Her work provided huge insight into continental drift and plate tectonics.
In pursuit of giants: one man’s global search for the last of the great fish by Matt Rigney
On the darker side of the ocean, Rigney travels around the globe to explain why the giant fishes (bluefin tuna, marlin, and swordfish) are disappearing and what is being done to save them.
You can find these and other new nonfiction books at the top of the stairs on the second floor. To see what else is new in nonfiction, check out this week’s list.
And remember, oceans may contain water, but as the Mariner says, “Water, water every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”
by Andrea on May 29th, 2012
While there are exceptions it is generally parents, rather than children, that seek out the math books in our Children’s Room. It is exciting to hand the parents a math book that their children will enjoy as well as learn from. Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy is just such a book.
The text is spare and straightforward working hand in hand with the many illustrations to make the concept clear. A wide variety of examples from nature, art, the alphabet and holidays make the concepts of line and rotational symmetry easy to understand. Step by step, Leedy uses a pinwheel and a trillium to demonstrate the matches involved in rotational symmetry. From its visually striking symmetrical cover to the many examples within, the book makes finding symmetry in our world a fun and interesting activity. The back matter with activities and further explanations is helpful as well. The final page explaining why symmetry is an important math concept will be as helpful for parents (who often equate math with numbers) as children. An excellent book to share as a family before a nature walk or a game of Pac-Man.
by Anne on April 25th, 2012
The transistor. The communications satellite. The coaxial cable. The fiber optics cable. The integrated circuit. The solar cell. The cell phone. The charge-coupled device. Stereo recording. High frequency radar. C programming language. C++. UNIX. Information theory. And of course, the Picturephone. These technological innovations and ideas (and much, much more) came out of one place: Bell Labs.
In The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, Jon Gertner explores the people who made AT&T the most inventive company in the 20th Century. From Claude Shannon to Bill Shockley, Bell Labs was able to recruit the brightest young minds in physics, math, engineering, and chemistry to make the telephone system universal, but also better and cheaper. Gertner provides an accessible, well-paced history of Bell Labs. However, he is also concerned with how innovation happens. What made Bell Labs so special? How was the research wing of ONE company able to transform our world so drastically?
After finishing The Idea Factory, I’m left with: “What would the world look like today without Bell Labs?” I wonder if we would still answer the phone with “ahoy-hoy” and watch what we say because Mrs. McGregor from down the street is listening in. More than that, would you be able to watch Game of Thrones or text your friend or read this review on your computer (let alone your phone or tablet)? Something to think about when you pick up The Idea Factory.
by Maeve on October 15th, 2011
Dr. Jeff Wells, a veterinarian in rural Colorado, has written a follow-up to his All My Patients Have Tales. What is it about stories about animals that make books on the topic so popular? Do they give us a way to increase our interactions with animals beyond the one or two pets we can have at home if we are lucky enough to share our lives with companion animals? I don’t know the answer, but I find myself borrowing many books from the 636 (animal husbandry) section of the library.
All My Patients Kick and Bite while not set in North Yorkshire has much in common with the stories recounted in the James Herriot books. Wells operates a small and large animal practice and makes visits to his patients at their ranches or farms and answers emergency calls at all hours at his clinic. He patients range form llamas to bulls to lambs many with unique personalities. The human companions to the animals Dr. Wells helps are sometime even more interesting and challenging than the ailing animals. If you enjoyed All Creatures Great and Small you might want to give All My Patients Kick and Bite.
by Maeve on July 7th, 2011
Are you looking for a great book? A work of nonfiction that reads like a novel? Well, here it is. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, (TILOHL). I checked out TILOHL last year and returned it without ever opening it. Guess I must have been busy because had I started it I would not have been able to put it down. I devoured TILOHC in two days. Skloot, an award-winning science writer, has crafted the story of Henrietta Lacks, or more precisely, HeLa, the “immortal” cells taken from Mrs. Lacks without her knowledge, and the Lacks family.
Skloot spent ten years writing TILOHL and deftly weaves the tale – cell lines and their study, the discoveries made possible from HeLa and medical ethics into her story of the heirs of Henrietta Lacks. Lacks was a black woman, born in Clover, Virginia, in Lacks Town, land that was left to her ancestors by the former slave owners who had fathered them. She married her first cousin, moved to Baltimore and bore five children. She died from cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31. Skloot, a well-educated white woman has to build trust with the Lacks, a family suspicious of those who come asking questions of their mother.
TILOHL is intriguing on so many levels; as a race history, a balanced debate on medical ethics and a biographical study of poor black Southern family. It is a story that continues to reverberate today. Who owns an individuals cells and when does scientific discovery trump individual rights? I heartily recommend The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
by Andrea on June 28th, 2011
Is the news about math and science scores getting you down? Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch and What it Takes to Win shows the flip side, innovative and intelligent students who will knock your socks off. Judy Dutton brings us the stories of teens whose science fair projects qualified for national science fairs including the highly competitive (and profitable) Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Their levels of curiosity, determination and intelligence are inspiring.
A wide range of science is represented by their projects as well: nuclear fusion, horse therapy, colony collapse disorder, water pollution, graphene and solar energy. Dutton highlights teens with interesting life stories as well as impressive science projects. Their paths to science success and access to lab equipment and education were by no means all alike. Some came to science inquiry at a very young age. Ryan Patterson was rewiring his parents’ home at age five. On the other hand, Eliza McNitt chose a science lab class because it didn’t conflict with her drama class. Kayla Cornale was motivated to help her autistic cousin learn to speak. The most compelling story for me was Garrett Yazzie, a Navajo boy, for whom necessity was the true mother of invention. With the choice of freezing in the winter or watching his sister become severely ill when they used coal to heat their trailer, Yazzie pieced together a highly-efffective solar heater using an old car radiator.
The role of mentors in the lives of the students is fascinating as well. Thanks to strong mentorship, Taylor Wilson’s life is like The Radioactive Boy Scout with a happy ending. Supportive teachers were important especially at the juvenile correctional facility where Lloyd Jones and Ollie Rodriguez worked on their projects. Kelydra Welcker’s interest in science was sparked by her parents, but they balked when her inquiries into water pollution brought her up against the main family and community employer, Dow Chemical.
The book’s real strength lies in the interaction of the human stories with the science. The writing was so accessible it read like fiction despite the complex projects the teens undertook. If you enjoy documentaries like Spellbound and Resolved, you’ll enjoy Science Fair Season even if you usually steer clear of scientific subjects. A perfect companion to Science Fair Season is The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. At fourteen, Kamkwamba pieced together a windmill to provide electricity and then irrigation for his family during the drought that crippled Malawi in 2001.
The local science fair that feeds into the IISEF is the Eastern Iowa Science and Engineering Fair. The next one will be March 17, 2012 and includes a public viewing time.