Annal: 2011 Royal Society Prize for Science Books

Results of the Royal Society Prizes in the year 2011.

Book:The Wavewatcher's Companion

The Wavewatcher's Companion

Gavin Pretor-Pinney

One bright February afternoon on a beach in Cornwall, Gavin Pretor-Pinney took a break from cloudspotting and started watching the waves rolling into shore. Mesmerised, he wondered where they had come from, and decided to find out. He soon realised that waves don’t just appear on the ocean, they are everywhere around us, and our lives depend on them.

From the rippling beats of our hearts, to the movement of food through our digestive tracts and of signals across our brains, waves are the transport systems of our bodies. Everything we see and hear reaches us via light and sound waves, and our information age is reliant on the microwaves and infrared waves used by the telephone and internet infrastructure. From shockwaves unleashed by explosions to torsional waves that cause suspension bridges to collapse, from sonar waves that allow submarines to ‘see’ with sound to Mexican waves that sweep through stadium crowds… there were waves, it seemed, wherever Gavin looked. But what,…[more]

Book:Alex's Adventures in Numberland

Alex's Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches from the Wonderful World of Mathematics

Alex Bellos

In this richly entertaining and accessible book, Alex Bellos explodes the myth that maths is best left to the geeks. Covering subjects from adding to algebra, from set theory to statistics, and from logarithms to logical paradoxes, he explains how mathematical ideas underpin just about everything in our lives.

Alex explains the surprising geometry of the 50p piece, and the strategy of how best to gamble it in a casino. He shines a light on the mathematical patterns in nature, and on the peculiar predictability of random behaviour. He eats a potato crisp whose revolutionary shape was unpalatable to the ancient Greeks, and he shows the deep connections between maths, religion and philosophy.

Alex weaves a journey from primary school to university level maths, from ancient history to the computing frontline,…[more]

Book:The Disappearing Spoon

The Disappearing Spoon: and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

Sam Kean

Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie’s reputation? And why is gallium (Ga, 31) the go-to element for laboratory pranksters?*

The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it’s also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, and in the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. The Disappearing Spoon masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery—from the Big Bang through the end of time.

*Though solid at room temperature, gallium is a moldable metal that melts at 84 degrees Fahrenheit. A classic science prank is to mold gallium spoons, serve them with tea, and watch guests recoil as their utensils disappear.

Book:Massive

Massive: The Missing Particle that Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science

Ian Sample

The biggest science story of our time, Massive spans four decades, weaving together the personal narratives and international rivalries behind the search for the “God” particle, or Higgs boson. A story of grand ambition, intense competition, clashing egos, and occasionally spectacular failures, Massive is the first book that reveals the science, culture, and politics behind the biggest unanswered question in modern physics—what gives things mass?

Drawing upon his unprecedented access to Peter Higgs, after whom the particle is named, award-winning science writer Ian Sample chronicles the multinational and multibillion-dollar quest to solve the mystery of mass. For scientists, to find the God particle is to finally understand the origin of mass, and until now, the story of their search has never been told.

Book:The Rough Guide to The Future

The Rough Guide to The Future

Jon Turney

Find the future now with 50 predictions in The Rough Guide to the Future.

Wondering what’s really in store for the human race? Nanotechnology and gene enhancements, solar power and carbon capture? Or oil shocks, water wars, food shortages, and mass extinction? The Rough Guide to the Future cuts a clear path through the jungle of scientific research and political debate, steering you around the prophets of doom and the utopian visionaries, to take you on a tour of the likeliest possibilities for the rest of this century—and beyond. It covers 50 predictions from the world’s leading futurologists and chronicles predictions from the past along with visions of the future. You’ll find out where we go from here with The Rough Guide to the Future.

Book:Through the Language Glass

Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour your World

Guy Deutscher

The debate is ages old: Where does language come from? Is it an artifact of our culture or written in our very DNA? In recent years, the leading linguists have seemingly settled the issue: all languages are fundamentally the same and the particular language we speak does not shape our thinking in any significant way. Guy Deutscher says they’re wrong. From Homer to Darwin, from Yale to the Amazon, and through a strange and dazzling history of the color blue, Deutscher argues that our mother tongues do indeed shape our experiences of the world. Audacious, delightful, and provocative, Through the Language Glass is destined to become a classic of intellectual discovery.

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