Five science books to add to your 2018 reading list

Turn off whatever device you’re reading this on, and go pick up a book instead. Honestly, it’s the only sane way to deal with modern life. Non-fiction books in particular are vital in understanding the basic principles that make today’s world what it is. They can help us all decide how to tread the best path through it.

Still here? Perhaps you need a little advice on what to pick up? In that case, you’ve come to the right place. ScienceSeeker's editors have chosen some of the favourites we’ve read this year, which lift the veil on gender, trees, the animals we eat, our feeling for time, and how science emerges from chance. Have a read of any or all of them, and inform yourself!

Andy Extance, chemistry and physics editor and ScienceSeeker editor in chief's pick is Inferior by Angela Saini. He says:
In an extremely readable way, Saini explores how the 'just so' stories that science supposedly tells us about human gender, and specifically women's inferior qualities, often don't bear great scrutiny. Evolutionary psychology explanations are often built on studies of animals where males dominate and overlook those species where females do. Anthropology studies that imply that women's place is in the home similarly overlook evidence to the contrary. For example human mothers kill their babies or leave them to die, which suggest that motherhood in particular is not innate. Saini both brings together the best, latest, evidence and explores the internal politics of science that has distorted our attitudes to women. I highly recommend you read Inferior, and find out about the real story of women and men.

Jennifer Tsang, ecology and policy editor's pick is Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. She says:
Trees are everywhere, but we often walk amidst them without wondering about their daily lives. What controls the come and go of leaves with the seasons? How do they survive such drastic changes in temperature? How do trees communicate with one another – how do they cooperate or compete with each other and other species? These are just a few of the questions that Wohlleben addresses to describe the amazing ways tree survive and evolve. Written to educate and entertain, I found myself fascinated over and over again throughout this book.

Recent scientific developments are radically changing how we see and understand animals. By engaging with research from a wide range of disciplines, Professor of Anthropology, Barbara J. King, addresses the dissonance between how we feel about our non-human cohabitants and what we choose to eat – in turn creating a nuanced, thoughtful and provocative book.

Teodora Stoica, neuroscience editor's pick is: Your Brain is a Time Machine: The Neuroscience and Physics of Time by Dean Buonomano. She says:
This book explores how the human brain not only tells time but creates it, engagingly explaining the concept of “mental time travel” and addressing profound questions such as: “What is time?” and “Is our sense of time’s passage an illusion?” Illustrating these ideas using multi-disciplinary data, Buonamano's book is an engaging and entertaining book that makes time fly by.

Thanassis Psaltis, art, photography, physics and general science editor's pick is: Causality and Chance in Modern Physics by David Bohm
This book was published in 1957, when there was a lot of discussion on the interpretation of the quantum theory, despite the fact that the Copenhagen interpretation pioneered by Bohr and Heisenberg was widely accepted by physicists. The book has a foreword by Louis de Broglie, one of the pioneers of quantum physics, who postulated in his PhD thesis that matter behaves like waves. Prof. Bohm discusses in a very concise way how causality and chance can describe physical laws and he presents his interpretation of the quantum theory. It's great reading for science students, since Prof. Bohm, one of the most rounded scientists of the twentieth century, guides the reader into the inner workings of natural laws, using quantum mechanics as an example.


ScienceSeeker picks 2017 highlights: Investigating the interplay between Mind and Machine

Image credit Pabak Sarkar, used under Creative Commons licence.
by Ananya Sen

The works of Isaac Asimov, to me, always seemed to be the stuff of pure magic. It was incomprehensible that in the near future we would live in a society where machines would be smoothly integrated into our daily lives. The first step towards that seeming impossibility was the advent of smartphones. Now, we can connect with friends on the opposite side of the world, send in work emails, casually scroll through pictures of travel destinations and the hottest restaurants, all while sipping the morning cup of coffee. Smartphones have become so enmeshed into our daily routines that it is impossible to ignore the sea of people with heads bent over their screens. And so, when ScienceSeeker asked me to choose some highlights of the post its editors have picked as their favourites in 2017, smartphones were always likely to be among them.

For example, it turns out there is a biological component to our smartphone fixation. Smartphones cause changes in the ratio of the neurotransmitters gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), glutamate and glutamine (GLX). A study conducted on teenagers showed that the ratio of GABA to Glx was higher in the cortex of internet- and smartphone- addicted youth compared to the healthy controls. An imbalance in this ratio leads to drowsiness and anxiety. Further studies will elucidate the clinical implications of this finding and determine whether the emotional problems are the cause or consequence of this media addiction.

However, our modern machines can clearly be beneficial, and this year video games have been studied as an option for treating kids with ADHD. Akili Interactive Labs has designed a game that target specific neural pathways leading to cognitive improvement. The targeted algorithms are aimed at producing the same beneficial effect as ADHD drugs, without the side effects. The company is now focusing on similar video games for treating adults with depression, patients with pediatric autism, and those with multiple sclerosis.

Virtual reality technology is now exciting avid video game players – and scientists. Researchers are combining virtual reality with visualization software to explore the 3D structure of the brain. This will allow scientists to perform visual dissections of the brain instead of depending on traditional microscopic slides of 2D slices. Furthermore, scientists can now trace individual neurons by slipping on the virtual reality headsets. This is a vast improvement over the current software programs that require constantly rotating 2D images to visualize the path of a neuron; a cumbersome process considering that a cubic millimeter of the brain has approximately 300 million neural connections. The new technology borrows graphic techniques from the “Harry Potter” franchise, and so it is hardly surprising that the results seem to be magical!


The Science of Star Wars

Photo credit: JD Howell
Is it possible to create a lightsaber? Could the Force ever be a reality? ScienceSeeker editor and McMaster University PhD student Thanassis Psaltis explores the real science behind the fictional Star Wars universe.

Since the first Star Wars movie opened in 1977, children the world over have been channelling their inner Obi Wan Kenobi – trying in vain to move objects using the mystical power of the Force.

While it may not be possible to levitate the TV remote using Jedi powers, science tells us that, in fact, there are forces that bind the galaxy together, planets that resemble those found in the Star Wars universe, and that it may – theoretically at least – be possible to build a lightsaber.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to Thanassis Psaltis, a first-year PhD student in experimental nuclear astrophysics, Star Wars is full of interesting science.

To mark this week’s release of the latest installment of the Star Wars saga, Psaltis who is supervised by Alan Chen, a professor in McMaster’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, recently explored the science of Star Wars in a unique show he created and presented at McMaster’s W.J. McCallion Planetarium:


Ten science talk tips for the holidays

by Gaia Cantelli, PhD

Credit: Dennis Crowley, used via Creative Commons licence
The holidays are upon us, with people everywhere beginning their annual migrations to be with family for a few days of eating, drinking, exchanging presents and catching up. However, most people will also have relatives whose views are radically different from theirs – and seem to bring them up at the most embarrassing time possible. If you are a scientist yourself, or simply a science enthusiast, one of the most challenging breeds of embarrassing relative is undoubtedly the science-denier. You want to help them, while at the same time you probably don't want to argue under the Christmas tree. Here are some of my best-tested top-tips for dealing with your festive nightmare.


What can scientists do with hijacked sperm? How can you avoid 'purchase regret'? Find out in ScienceSeeker's picks of the best posts for the week of December 11-17 2017 #sciseekpicks #scicomm

The mysteries of stars and comets, modern-day evidence for evolution, and the latest insights on how we think. These are among the topics covered by picks the ScienceSeeker editors have made of their favourite posts within their respective areas of interest and expertise. Here is the full round-up of the Science Seeker Editors’ Selections for the past week:
Cassiopeia is a furnace that makes elements. 
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Why is the brain of a murdering ex-NFL player important? Why are computer games big news for medicine? Find out in ScienceSeeker's picks of the best posts for the week of December 4-10 2017 #sciseekpicks #scicomm

Important findings in neuroscience, including how gaming can be useful; some cold hard food and drink posts for the Northern hemisphere winter; and some great arguments against the weird idea the Earth is flat. These are among the topics covered by picks the ScienceSeeker editors have made of their favourite posts within their respective areas of interest and expertise. Here is the full round-up of the Science Seeker Editors’ Selections for the past week:
Supercooled water freezes quickly. Credit: Physics Buzz

Check back next week for more great picks!


Dogs or cats, which is smarter? How does Tinder hook its users? Find out in ScienceSeeker's picks of the best posts for the week of November 27-December 3 2017 #sciseekpicks #scicomm

How Tinder and other smartphone apps affect our brains; the surprising effects our diets can have on the environment; and lessons from nature on how to fight climate change. These are among the topics covered by picks the ScienceSeeker editors have made of their favourite posts within their respective areas of interest and expertise. Here is the full round-up of the Science Seeker Editors’ Selections for the past week:
Image copyright Compound Interest, used under Creative Commons licence.
Check back next week for more great picks!