Summer readings

It’s really hot in summer, where we live. Usually the hottest place in France, actually. From mid-day to late afternoon, it’s usually better to stay inside, where it’s a lot cooler. A good period to read books. I read three good scientific ones lately.

H2O, A biography of water, by Philip Ball. He’s probably my favorite science writer, and I enjoy his frequent columns in Nature or Nature Materials, among others. He’s the one that taught me, following our Science paper, that ice has been used as a structural material… for planes ! This book is truly excellent. Philip Ball is giving us a grand tour of water, through history and the various domains of science, from chemistry to biology or geophysics. I particularly enjoyed the history of water through the centuries. Hi style makes it a joy to read, I could hardly put it down. Lots of gems like this one (maybe because I’m getting into antifreeze proteins lately):

If fish conducted scientific research, you might expect them to set up whole institutes devoted to studying supercooled liquids, since their very existence depends on this precarious state.

Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization, by Adrian Bejan and J Peder Zane.
 I wasn’t aware of the constructal theory until I read that book, and that was quite a fascinating read. The constructal theory is about how design in nature arise from a simple law, the constructal law, which is basically how stuff (mass, materials, ideas) flow. Design of things are evolving towards an always better flow. The authors are aiming high, applying their theory to pretty much everything you can think about, from lungs, rivers and trees to universities and animals. Although I don’t agree with all of their ideas, such as their claim about the very existence of trees (which are supposidely the most effcient way of moving water from the soil to the atmosphere), it was a stimulating read nonetheless.

Visual Strategies, A Practical Guide to Graphics for Scientists and Engineers, by Felice C. Frankel and Angela H. DePace.

This one is all about how to design figures or graphics to convey scientific ideas, whether it’s for a paper, a poster or a grant application. Beautiful illustrations and some interesting stories, but I found too many examples and too little theory. If you are not familiar with graphic design, it’s difficult to translate the examples provided into usefull lessons you can applied. A good book, still.