Biology, Physics and Chemisty…Yikes!

Although these subjects were my least favorite in high school (science never having been my strong suit), George Johnson’s book: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments explains and describes various scientific pursuits ranging from Galileo’s ideas on movement to Michael Faraday’s preoccupation with not only electromagnetism and light but also his pushy muse Lady Ada Lovelace (say that three times fast, I dare you). The sections on her were equally as interesting as the descriptions of the experiments themselves along with the quick snappy bios about the scientists. An easy read that intrigues and opens the mind to either new or familiar ideas, depending on whether you passed those classes in high school or not, I found myself enchanted by this science book.

“The chick embryo lying in a container of tepid water looked like a little cloud. Its shell had been carefully peeled away, and inside there throbbed a minuscule heart – a red dot no bigger than a pinpoint that disappeared and reappeared with every beat. Years later, in 1628, a London physicist named William Harvey described the phenomenon: ‘Betwixt the visible and invisible, betwixt being and not being, as it were, it gave by its pulses a kind of representation of the commencement of life.’

Probably no one had ever studied so many different kinds of hearts – dog hearts, pig hearts, the hearts of frogs, toads, snakes, fishes, snails and crabs. A certain kind of shrimp found in the ocean and in the river Thames had a transparent body, and Harvey and his friends would watch watch its heart gyrate ‘as though it had been seen through a window.’ Sometimes he would remove the heart altogether, feeling the slow rythm as it beat its last beats in his hand.”

(Vivisection will always give me the heebie-jeebies but a beautiful passage no less.)

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