Tired of the civil war ravaging England, Thomas Hobbes decided in the seventeenth century that he would work out how society should be governed. But his approach was not to be based on the wishful thinking of Plato’s ‘Republic’ or Bacon’s ‘New Atlantis’; Hobbes used Galileo’s mechanics to construct a theory of government from physical first principles. His answer looks unappealing today: a dictatorial monarchy that ruled with an iron fist. But Hobbes had begun a new adventure: to look for ‘scientific’ rules that governed society.
Books by Philip Ball
This companion volume to “Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules” looks at how our ideas about the fundamental constitution of matter have evolved through the ages, from the four classical elements of Aristotle to the creation of new, artificial elements in the particle-smashing machines of physics laboratories.
It explores the many and varied roles that elements play in our culture, from the gold of Midas and the alchemists to the silicon of the Information Age.
Bright Earth investigates how the invention of new pigments and colouring materials since times of antiquity have affected the course of Western art. The creative potential of painters has always been constrained by the colours on their palette. Renaissance and the emergence of Impressionism in the late nineteenth century, can be linked directly to the availability of new pigments.
Often neglected in studies of art history, the materials of the artist provide a new perspective on how art has evolved and how science, commerce, industry and art have interacted throughout the centuries.
From a community of molecules, life somehow emerges. It seems miraculous, for molecules have no intrinsic life of their own. Life is a result of their interactions, their communication, cooperation, competition and motion. This book uses the chemistry of life to explain what molecules are, how and why chemists make new ones, and how the molecular sciences are eroding the boundaries between natural and synthetic…
From a community of molecules, life somehow emerges. It seems miraculous, for molecules have no intrinsic life of their own. Life is a result of their interactions, their communication, cooperation, competition and motion. This book uses the chemistry of life to explain what molecules are, how and why chemists make new ones, and how the molecular sciences are eroding the boundaries between natural and synthetic by seeking to emulate some of biology’s microscopic feats of engineering.
In the Old Testament, the God of the Hebrews hovers over the primeval waters and brings forth the world from the infinite ocean. It is a motif echoed in creation myths throughout the world. In each, water is the fundamental precondition for life. Yet the extent to which water remains a scientific mystery is extraordinary, despite its prevalence and central importance on Earth. Whether one considers its role in biology, its place in the physical world (where it refuses to obey the usual rules of liquids) or its deceptively simple chemistry, there is still no complete answer to the question: what is water?
This book explains what, exactly, we do and do not know about the strange character of this most essential and ubiquitous of substances.
Why do similar patterns and forms appear in settings that seem to bear no relation to one another? The windblown ripples of desert sand follow a sinuous course that resembles the stripes of a zebra or a marine fish. We see the same architectural angles in the trellis-like shells of microscopic sea creatures as in the bubble walls of a foam. The forks of lightning mirror the branches of a river or a tree.
This book explains why there is more than coincidence in this conjunction of forms and structures. Nature commonly weaves its tapestry by self-organization, employing no master plan or blueprint but instead simple, local interactions between its component parts – whether they be grains of sand, diffusing molecules or living cells. And the products of self-organization are typically universal patterns: spirals, spots, stripes, branches, honeycombs.
Many of the most exciting developments in modern science come not from particle accelerators, astronomical observatories or biotechnology companies but from the benches of chemists. Dubbed “The Cinderella Science”, chemistry has come a long way from smells and smoke.
Today’s chemists are creating the substances that shape the world and change our lives.
They are engineers in atom-craft, in rearranging the elements into fantastic architectural forms with their own lilliputian beauty. Amongst these creations of the molecular world are the hollow carbon molecules called fullerenes, which may lead to super-strong fibres or electronic devices a hundred times smaller than those on today’s silicon chips.
From synthetic skin, blood and bone to substances that repair themselves and adapt to the environment, that swell and flex like muscles, that repel any ink or paint, or that capture and store the energy of the Sun – new materials are shaping our future. For the first time in history, materials are being “made to measure”: designed for particular applications, rather than discovered in nature or by haphazard experimentation.
This book links insights from chemistry, biology and physics with those from engineering as it outlines the various areas in which new materials will transform our lives in the twenty-first century.