- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 16, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195393961
- ISBN-13: 978-0195393965
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.8 x 5.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,710,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Much Ado about (Practically) Nothing: A History of the Noble Gases 1st Edition
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"Fast-paced and humorous, the book keeps the reader's attention, even during complicated passages. Balancing scientific technicalities and story-telling, readers with and without extensive scientific knowledge can enjoy Fisher's book." -- Chemical Heritage
About the Author
David E. Fisher is Professor Emeritus of Geological Science at The University of Miami. He is the author of nine novels and fourteen works of non-fiction.
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Top customer reviews
The title claims a history of the noble gases and certainly there is plenty of history in the book as the author recites his career from 1959 on, stories learned from older scientists of WWI and WWII eras and stories from the century beforehand apparently obtained from original sources. Yet only 4 of 6 gases are actually discussed. Neon is only mentioned in two sentences in separate chapters. Krypton is mentioned once as an aside in an unrelated topic. And Radon appears at the end with no historical context. So it is really 50 years of the author's experiences with noble gases which is much much less. The author clearly favors particle physics over any other branch of science and freely claims to have lived in a world where learning only one discipline was preferred and discrediting others for possessing credentials in another discipline is a common debate tactic with a long history. Aren't traditions great? Thus, explanations for noble gas use in astronomy, geology or chemistry are weak and glossed over and no diagrams are provided. However, superconductivity and mass spectrometry are equally given the light treatment as if the author expects only grad students to read his book. I would have enjoyed reading more about the exact difficulties in detecting noble gases since the process seems to be subtractive more than additive and if it had improved any since the advent of transistors, lasers and oh, I don't know ... computers. I also would have enjoyed reading the exact method of cooling elements that led to helium being the coldest and an explanation why since hydrogen is supposed to be used to make helium. And how gases are liquified today. Lastly, since helium was mentioned so much and the author implied that he usually had a bugger of a time isolating it from gas samples, one wonders why it isn't more precious than gold or at least as expensive.
In one search for the theoretical neutrino particle (produced in the sun and beamed through the earth) the argon isotope Ar-37 was predicted to be formed by a neutrino reaction with Cl-37. This Ar-37 was found but in lesser amounts than theory predicted which eventually led to the discovery that neutrinos changed form in pasaage from the sun to the earth. This characteristic suggesting the "mass-less' neutrinos have some finite mass which ultimately required theories of standard of particle physics had to be modified. As the author notes, he had an opportunity to be part of that original neutrino search project but never stayed with the eventual 20 year project which ultimately led it's originator's research to a Nobel prize.
All through the chapters personal stories are inter-dispersed with the technical. In one example he took on a challenge to debate a Creationist about the age of the earth and realized the audience of true believers were not to be bothered by scientific facts. He discusses the political infighting in academic departments that is mostly unseen to the general public. In a related event he is propositioned by an academic colleague's wife who is trying to get back at her philandering husband and his obvious lack of a tactful response hurting his academic situation.
The main science of gases is focused on Helium and Argon as decay products from radioactive materials. But areas the gases impact include cancer and radiation, biomedical tracers, anesthetics and pressurized Helium-Oxygen gas mixtures for deep sea scuba diving are just a few of the technical subjects deriving from the properties of these gases. His final discussion relates to radon which has been the cause of cancer in miners and now is an issue for homeowners in the Northeast and Midwest US where geological formations in the earth allow radon to seep into basements. Certain areas have such a high rate of radon infiltration that the simple but necessary option is a positive venting system to eliminate the gas from the living quarters. This book is a pleasure to read at several levels but should be made available to any precollege student thinking of science as a possible profession.