Skip to main content

Nanoscience - Peter Forbes and Tom Grimsey ***

Quantum theory proves the fascination of the science of the very small, and nanotechnology offers the potential for structures and materials at the kind of scale where quantum physics comes into play behaving significantly more impressively than we expect from something as, dare I say, it dull as materials science.

Thanks to the concept of tiny replicators and robots, nanotechnology has some remarkable heights to aim at - and some deadly lows in the form of all-eating 'grey goo' as worried about by Prince Charles. But the reality is that such technology is far beyond us, and may never be possible because of the difficulties of making engineering work at this scale, where all sorts of different influences, from unexpected forces to quantum tunnelling come into play. Practical nanotechnology started with pigments and even now is mostly about small structured particles and tubules, rather than mini-machines.

Peter Forbes and Tom Grimsey provide a good basic introduction to aspects like the self-assembly of structures, graphene and medicine making use of nanostructures in a heavily illustrated book. And sometimes the topics are genuinely fascinating. I have to mention graphene again, but I also found quasi crystals a new (to me) and interesting field.

However, there is a bit of a 'But...' I really respect Peter Forbes as a science writer, and have been very impressed with his previous titles like Dazzled and Deceived. But this book really didn't work as well for me. Although it had strong illustrations, some exceedingly beautiful, the layout wasn't inspiring and the near-coffee table book format made it clumsy to read. I do wonder if Forbes' collaborator Grimsey, an artist, was the wrong person to get involved in the project, as there was far too much focus in the text on the trivial artistic side of nanoscience  and unlike Forbes' previous books there was no real narrative flow, but rather a collection of facts that failed to provide an overall vision of the science.

There's lots of good stuff here, and it's one of relatively few books on a nanotechnology, but the way the material has been put across was a bit of a let-down.


Hardback 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Demon in the Machine - Paul Davies *****

Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it. (I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics.) Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schrödinger’s lecture series and book What is Life?, which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book. 

At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine (we'll come back to that demon in a moment) is the relationship between life and information. In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software. The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.
This information and its processing gives life its emergent compl…

The Cosmic Mystery Tour – Nicholas Mee ****

This is another book, like last year’s Enjoy Our Universe by Alvaro de Rújula, that sets out to provide a light-hearted introduction to physics and astrophysics for the general reader. It’s from the same publisher (OUP) and packaged in the same way: as a high quality small-format hardback with 200 glossy pages, the majority of them adorned with colour pictures. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Unlike its predecessor, this new book by Nicholas Mee delivers exactly what it promises.

It’s not that de Rújula’s book was a bad one, but he just wasn’t able to think his way into the reader’s mind. He kept saying ‘physics is fun’, but he was talking about the fun a professional physicist gets out of doing it – which is a very arcane, often highly mathematical, type of fun. The result, for a non-specialist reader, was actually quite alienating. Mee, on the other hand, understands exactly how his readers think, what they find interesting, and the details that – no matter how important they …

Shadow Captain (SF) - Alastair Reynolds *****

One again, Alastair Reynolds demonstrates his mastery of complex world building. This is a sequel to Revenger, but while it's ideal to have read that first, I didn't feel a huge loss from not having done so. (But I'll be going back to read it.)

What sets these books apart is the richness of the setting. The Ness sisters, Adrana (the narrator of the book) and Arafura, along with their small motley crew, sail their spaceship through a far future solar system, where the planets have long since been dismantled to produce millions of small habitats and storage asteroids known as baubles. The civilisation in the system has risen and fallen many times, leaving mysterious technology (and contact with some low grade aliens) in a scenario that mixes high tech with a setting that is strongly (and intentionally) reminiscent of the world of seventeenth century shipping.

Spaceships are primarily powered by vast acreage of solar sails, privateers hunt bounty from the baubles and even th…