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Book Review: Science Matters by Robert M. Hazen and James Trefil

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Do you believe the hype about UFOs? Do you think it's just a matter of time until some clever inventor builds a machine that will allow us to reach the nearest star and its planetary system? Are you a believer that God created the entire universe in seven precious days?

If you engage in conversation in a cafeteria, or on the bus/subway, or at a PTA meeting, or at an office work conference, or wherever you happen to meet people, what you say about these matters may reflect to others a certain naiveté on you part. Or if you choose to remain silent as I sometimes do, you might feel just plain stupid.

This would also be true if you feel global warming is a myth, or that the natural selection process of evolution isn’t for real, or that science should solve the abortion issue once and for all by telling people when a spirit or soul enters the substance we call a fetus.

If any of the issues I just raised perplex, confuse, or annoy you, then Science Matters is the perfect book for you. This volume will explain in terms anyone can understand, the reasons why it is impossible for humans to ever reach the nearest star and improbable that UFOs could reach our planet.

In lay persons' terms, the book reveals what evidence there is for the Big Bang that brought forth the universe. This is not to short-circuit anyone’s belief in a Divine Creator-God, but it may support true believers who know that the Holy Bible is meant to be allegory, not science.

Science Matters can explain how two sex cells unite to develop into a fetus, but cannot tell when that globule becomes a human being.

This book explains such complicated concepts as the relationship between electricity and magnetism; how what we think we see or feel as solids, liquids, and gases, are made of almost infinitely small particles moving at tremendous speeds; how all life itself is made up of a genetic code. Most importantly, it speaks of the precious interrelationship of all life on earth and our responsibility to preserve it.

The authors of this book have an uncanny ability to take the most complicated concepts, explain them in simple, but realistic terms — often with diagrams. I found the section titled “Particle Zoo” rather comical. They say, “There are so many kinds of elementary particles that sometimes it’s hard to tell the players without a scorecard.”

When one considers the size of some of these particles, it appears they are, for the most part, whiffs of energy moving about in vast quantities of subatomic space. The conclusion can be drawn that what I typically assume is my desk (a solid), or my Diet Coke (a liquid), or the air in my room (a gas), is nothing more than empty space.

I would highly recommend Science Matters, to everyone who loves to learn — who seeks to know. It is extremely easy to read and will make your feel comfortable about topics you’ve avoided when enjoined in conversation. You will not be an expert, but you can appear up-to-date and knowledgeable.

I would suggest that educators use Science Matters as a backup book for many formal classroom physics or chemistry textbooks. You will surely find its explanations, definitions, and diagrams helpful. 

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About Regis Schilken