The Fermi Solution: Essays on Science

Hans Christian Von Baeyer, Author, Jack Shepherd, Author
Hans Christian Von Baeyer, Author, Jack Shepherd, Author Random House (NY) $19 (172p) ISBN 978-0-679-40031-8
Reviewed on: 05/31/1993
Release date: 06/01/1993
Reprinted from the magazines Sciences and Discover , these 17 essays provide elegant, if not fresh, reading. Von Baeyer, a professor of physics at the College of William and Mary, can make such topics as cold dark matter seem both obvious and profound (``Creatures of the Deep''). His model is Enrico Fermi's trademark problem-solving technique for breaking down cosmos-sized calculations into smaller analog subproblems. In ``Impossible Crystals,'' von Baeyer chronicles the fairly recent discovery of materials known as quasicrystals to make his larger point that playfulness is an essential part of scientific investigation. ``A Gentler Touch'' reviews the history of scientific method from the passive examination of natural phenomena prevalent before the 17th century to the invasive, often destructive techniques of modern science; von Baeyer notes a turn back to a noninterventionist science that re-acknowledges the value of reflective observation. He writes with such clarity, grace and energy that it seems a niggling complaint to wish that von Baeyer had included material not previously published. (June)
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