Sunday, February 27, 2005

New books

I recently downloaded a copy of Daniel J. Jacob's Introduction to Atmospheric Chemistry from his website. I intend to learn more about environmental science because I think that environmental debates are very important. Currently, I am far from convinced that the sky is falling. I am generally skeptical of the climatologists' ability to forecast future temperatures, but I agree that if global warming is occurring, and whether the cause is mankind, then we have a lot of work to do. Not necessarily to stop or reverse it (even supporters of Kyoto acknowledge that it alone could do little to change things, even if it is correct in its assumptions, while already being fantastically expensive) but to figure out how to live with it.

All this said, I admit readily that I am not an environmental scientist, and I have a lot to learn to fairly evaluate either side of global warming/environmentalism arguments. If I can make some sense of the pdf of Jacob's book, I'll pay the sixty bucks to get the hardcover from Amazon.

I also just received Classical Dynamics: a contemporary approach by Jose and Saletan. Nothing that's politically explosive here, like global warming, yet surprisingly, this area of physics has been influential in popular culture in the past couple of decades. Classical Dynamics, more often called Classical Mechanics, is a foundational subject in physics, and it deals with the motions of average-sized things. It's called classical to distinguish it from quantum mechanics, an altogether different kettle of fish concerned with very small things.

I had a course in mechanics when I was a physics undergrad, and have followed the emergence of new science from this oldest of physical theories since the 1980's. Chaos, fractals and complexity, which is where mechanics has begun to make a cultural impact, have emerged fairly recently. I was also a mathematics minor in college, so the inclusion in this volume of more modern mathematical techniques makes me excited to slog through it. Even when it's interesting, I find theoretical physics a hard row to hoe. Perhaps impatience is the best explanation for why I became a chemist rather than a physicist...


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