Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Best Science Writing

The votes have been tallied and the results are in! Right on the heels of the Oscars, the American Institute for Physics announced the Awards for Best Science Writing this year.

Does the idea of a top secret team of physicists hired by the Defense Department, the Department of Energy and the intelligence services in order to solve the government's biggest problems sounds like science fiction? Believe it or not, it's true and it's the subject of the Journalism category winner this year. Ann Finkbeiner's book "The Jasons" chronicles the secret meetings held every year by the nation's smartest minds on everything from nuclear weapons to climate change.

A revolution in physics was afoot in 1932, just before the dawn of the nuclear age, and the first glimmers of quantum mechanics. In Copenhagen a new younger generation of physicists met and outlined the foundations of the new quantum theory. Gino Segre's book "Faust in Copenhagen," winner of the Scientist award, ruminates on this historic meeting against the backdrop of the coming World War, nuclear weapons, and the ethics of science.

In 2036 an asteroid the size of the Rose Bowl called Apophis will safely pass close to Earth. Probably. There is a tiny chance that it could strike the planet causing mass devastation, but the odds against it are about 100,000 to one. Julia Court's NOVA special "Asteroid," winner of the Broadcast category, looks at the people who scan the skies looking for the next "planet killer" and the likelihood of a meteorite striking Earth.

Everyone sneezes, especially around hay fever season. "SNEEZE!" by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkel is a beautifully illustrated look at nine different causes for sneezing. The colorful electron microscope images of dust particles and pollen fit with the engaging text wonderfully. Winning in the Children's category, "SNEEZE!" is a great way to get kids introduced to the microscopic world.


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