Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Summer reading recommendations? Also, a comment on "The Martian", by Andy Weir

Anybody have summer reading recommendations, now that it's July?

Also, on the recommendation of a friend of mine, I recently finished "The Martian" by Andy Weir. It's a very quick read and a fun story about an astronaut, Mark Watney, who is stranded on Mars during a NASA mission gone bad. There aren't any monsters or aliens, just one guy, some computers, some astronomy and, surprisingly (or not), lots of chemistry. Here he is, making some hydrogen to make some water by using an iridium catalyst:
...I turned the valve until a trickle of hydrazine came out. I let one drop fall into the iridium bowl.  It undramatically sizzled and disappeared. But hey, that's what I wanted, I just freed up hydrogen and nitrogen. Yay!  
...With my mini-torch in hand, I started a slow hydrazine flow. It sizzled on the iridium and disappeared. Soon I had short bursts of flame sputtering from the chimney.  
The main thing I had to watch was the temperature. Hydrazine breaking down is extremely exothermic. So I did it a bit at a time, constantly watch the readout of a thermocouple I'd attached to the iridium chamber. Point is, the process worked! 
Of course, what process doesn't have a few process upsets? (To find out what happens and so I can avoid spoilers, you'll have to read the book.)

Chemistry plays a pretty big role in "The Martian" and I really enjoyed it. Readers, got any other books to recommend? 

15 comments:

  1. Proof: The Science of Booze was a good read. Has a nice mix of microbiology, chemistry, and history. I don't think I cringed a single time, as I usually do when reading what non-chemists write about chemistry.

    Plus...it's about booze, and many chemists have been known to kick a few back from time to time.

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    1. Thanks, I stumbled across this title some time ago and thought it looked interesting. It's good to see what someone else thinks of it.

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  2. How did your martian buddy fare with the radiation levels on the surface?

    Another good martian series (a trilogy) was by a Canadian author, I think by the name of Sawyer. Some Kanuks here can help me out with the books' names....

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  3. My pastor liked this book a lot. He was a chemist before he went to seminary, and he liked the science and the plausibility of it.

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  4. Zodiac by Neal Stephenson is on of my favorite chemistry related books, especially if you've ever spent any time in the Boston area.

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    1. Neal Stephenson is really great at explaining fairly complex things in a way you can understand as a layman.

      There is a scene in his huge epic The Baroque Cycle where one of the characters is extracting phosphorus from urine. In fact that series (well it is one book in a way, but 3000 odd pages!) has a number of well known members of that era, Newton and Hook and the like.

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    2. (subterranean rumble) "That's HOOKE!"

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  5. Feynman's Rainbow by Leonard Mlodinow. Nice bit of warm, fuzzy research inspiration.

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  6. 1. Neal Stephenson's "Seveneves": Everything you wanted to know about orbital mechanics...and more. Stephenson's knowledge of scientific detail is astounding.
    2. Joseph Ellis's "The Quartet": How the United "States" became the "United" States (between 1783 and 1789)
    3. James Swanson's "Manhunt": Edge of your seat real life thriller about the deeds and death of John Wilkes Booth.
    4. Nick Lane's "The Vital Question": An amazing and wholly original rumination on the origin of life.
    5. Natalie Angier's "Natural Obsessions": Vivid fly on the wall account from one year spent in Robert Weinberg's MIT cancer lab (akin to Barry Werth's "The Billion Dollar Molecule).

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    1. Also, Leonard Mlodinow's "The Upright Thinkers" which I just reviewed on the blog.

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  7. Thanks for the pointer. Really enjoyed the book.

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  8. ‘The Full Catastrophe,’ by James Angelos describing social dysfunction in Greece. I have just seen a review of the book in NYT so this is not bona fide recommendation, but I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

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  9. "Clinton Cash" by Peter Schweizer. Find out exactly how the Clintons undermined US economic and security interests with the connivance of the US government, the Democrat Party, and most of the US media, who couldn't be bothered to report on Hillary's *incredible* misdeeds for years.

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  10. I'm currently reading "Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut. It is probably known by many, but anyone who hasn't read it already should pick it up. Includes (so far as I've read) enough science to whet your appetite (both factual and fiction), but I am most enjoying the satirical elements.

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