Skip to main content

Robert L. Wolke – Four Way Interview

Robert L. Wolke is a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. From 1998 to 2007, Wolke wrote the food science column “FOOD 101″ for The Washington Post. His journalism awards include the James Beard Foundation award for best newspaper column, the IACP’s Bert Greene Award for best newspaper food writing, and the American Chemical Society’s 2005 Grady-Stack Award for interpreting chemistry to the public. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and co-author Marlene Parrish. His latest book is What Einstein Kept Under his Hat.
Why science?
All told, as a student, professor and administrator I have spent more than 40 years of my life in colleges and universities. In every institution all human scholarship, like Caesar’s Gaul, was divided into three parts: sciences, humanities and social sciences. Putting aside the perennial squabble among academics of whether economics, history, political science or sociology are true “sciences,” we are left with two categories: science and humanities.
But I firmly believe and would argue anywhere that science is a humanity. It is the most highly developed and most demanding intellectual pursuit that human beings engage in. Scientific investigation—seeking to learn how the universe works—is perhaps the most fundamental difference between humans and animals. We question Nature and seek understanding of it. Animals don’t. Science is a uniquely human enterprise: a prototypical humanity.
Why this book?
Behind every phenomenon lies a scientific explanation, whether we yet know the explanation or not. That’s what science is: trying to find explanations of phenomena. But many everyday phenomena remain mysteries to nonscientists, even though a scientist could explain them easily in simple terms. One location that harbors many mysteries is the kitchen, and I can explain these phenomena to both home cooks and professional chefs who may be following certain time-honored routines without knowing why. After 10 years of writing a food science column (“Food 101”) for the Washington Post and receiving literally thousands of questions from perplexed cooks, I was able to select a few hundred to edit and include in this book, “What Einstein Kept Under His Hat.”
What’s next?
I have written four popular science books in my “Einstein” series: “What Einstein Didn’t Know,” “What Einstein Told His Barber,” What Einstein Told His Cook,” and “What Einstein Kept Under His Hat.” Whether there will be a fifth or not is yet to be decided. But I am currently explaining science on The Huffington Post and in lectures, newspapers and magazines. What’s next? Que será será.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
Resurrecting my college chemistry textbook for non-science majors, Prentice-Hall’s “Chemistry Explained,” which is out of print but about which I continue to receive inquiries.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Jim Baggott - Four Way Interview

Jim Baggott is a freelance science writer. He trained as a scientist, completing a doctorate in physical chemistry at Oxford in the early 80s, before embarking on post-doctoral research studies at Oxford and at Stanford University in California. He gave up a tenured lectureship at the University of Reading after five years in order to gain experience in the commercial world. He worked for Shell International Petroleum for 11 years before leaving to establish his own business consultancy and training practice. He writes about science, science history and philosophy in what spare time he can find. His books include Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb (2009), Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the ‘God Particle’ (2012), Mass: The Quest to Understand Matter from Greek Atoms to Quantum Fields (2017), and, most recently, Quantum Space: Loop Quantum Gravity and the Search for the Structure of Space, Time, and the Universe (2018). For more info see: www…

Quantum Space: Jim Baggott *****

There's no doubt that Jim Baggott is one of the best popular science writers currently active. He specialises in taking really difficult topics and giving a more in-depth look at them than most of his peers. The majority of the time he achieves with a fluid writing style that remains easily readable, though inevitably there are some aspects that are difficult for the readers to get their heads around - and this is certainly true of his latest title Quantum Space, which takes on loop quantum gravity.

As Baggott points out, you could easily think that string theory was the only game in town when it comes to the ultimate challenge in physics, finding a way to unify the currently incompatible general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Between them, these two behemoths of twentieth century physics underlie the vast bulk of physics very well - but they simply can't be put together. String theory (and its big brother M-theory, which as Baggott points out, is not actually a the…